Friday, December 21, 2012

The Crossword Puzzle Turns 99 Today!

It is not surprising that, as a writer, I love words. And puzzles with words are particularly wonderful.

Did you know that on December 21, 1913 the first crossword puzzle was published in New York World? The creator was Arthur Wynne a Scottish journalist. In those early days, most folks thought the crossword puzzle was a waste of time but the idea quickly took off and the iconic New York Times crossword was born in 1942. Crossword puzzles are an excellent way to build vocabulary and make connections inside your brain.

If you really love crossword puzzles, consider entering the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (March 8-10, 2013) in Brooklyn, NY. From the event's website: "Directed by New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz, this is the nation's oldest and largest crossword competition. Solvers tackle eight original crosswords created and edited specially for this event. Scoring is based on accuracy and speed. Prizes are awarded in more than 20 categories, including a $5,000 grand prize. Evening games, guest speakers, and a wine and cheese reception allow solvers to meet each other in a relaxed and entertaining atmosphere."

Start or continue a love of crossword puzzles at these sites:

  • USA Today Puzzles - Free! Play online. Great for beginners (it tells you when you are wrong) or a quick puzzle-working session.
  • NY Times Learning Network - Free! Play online or print. Themed puzzles like Bodies of Water, Women's Suffrage, and Fairy Tales.
  • Chicago Sun Times - Free! Play online or print. A new puzzle every day.
  • Brendan Emmett Quigley - Free! Play online or print. Two new puzzles a week (Mondays and Thursdays). BEQ creates puzzles for the NY Times. His puzzles are often fun and full of modern references.

*Beware: if you love word puzzles, don't visit one of the above sites when you should be working. I became so distracted working on the puzzles that I delayed finishing this blog post for several hours!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mean Girls You No Longer Run My World

We all know that bullying can take many forms. Perhaps one of the more insidious forms of bullying is the relational bullying of so-called Mean Girls, that group of girls in many a middle or high school who make it their life's mission to torment any girl who is not a part of their group. You've seen the movies, heard the stories, and maybe even lived through some "Mean Girls" moments yourself. This form of bullying is usually covert and we adults only see the effects on the victims. I think we need to talk more about relational bullying...share our stories and coping strategies with our friends, daughters, co-workers, and anyone who is willing to listen!

Well, one 14-year-old girl is starting the conversation with her song "Mean Girls". Rachel Crow is the "X-Factor" singing sensation who is empowering young girls everywhere to tell their stories and be heard.

Mean Girls by Rachel Crow
Who do you think you are
Loud mouth, cafeteria star
Maybe somebody was cruel to you
So you think that's what you're supposed to do
One day, it might be you
When you need a friend, but you no longer cool
When everyone leaves when you walk in the room
I just hope they forgive you

Monday, December 10, 2012

Two Realities of Honolulu

During my recent visit to Hawaii, I read the 2009 award-winning book Honolulu by Alan Brennert. Two different friends recommended this book to me before I left for Hawaii; the day before my departure, my husband plunked the trade paperback down on my desk and said, “I think you’ll like this.”

Indeed, I did enjoy it. Honolulu is a fictionalized historic romantic tale of a Korean woman who comes to Honolulu in 1914 as a “picture bride” (equivalent of a mail-order bride) to escape her life as a second-class citizen. The main character, Jin (she changed her Korean name, Regret, which pretty much sums up her status in her family) and her three friends (other picture brides she met during the journey from Korea) face incredible obstacles throughout their lives. The characters are so very real and engaging that I found myself emotionally involved with the story--enmeshed in feelings of outrage, shame, compassion and empathy.

Brennert paints a wonderfully accurate picture of life in Hawaii at the turn of the 20th century. Of course, Honolulu today is different than it was almost a hundred years ago; but I thoroughly enjoyed walking the streets Nuuanu and Beretania as well as identifying the various venues where Jin lived, worked and socialized. I could very well picture in my mind the Liliha Café in Buckle Lane in the Liliha District, although there are no more stables, and the rice paddies are long since gone at the intersection of King and Kapiolani. Dole Cannery is now a theater complex across the huge lot from Costco.

Honolulu is a captivating, engaging read and I'm looking forward to diving into another of Brennert's books:  Moloka'i which is the story of the challenges and triumphs of a young Hawaiian girl with leprosy in the early 20th century.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Working from Home: Dealing with Distractions

Working at home can be just as distracting--if not more so--than working in an office surrounded by other people. On the flip side, some folks who work from home suffer from a lack of interruptions which means fewer breaks--not so good for your body or mind. After years of writing in my home office I've found strategies to deal with most of the distractions. And, some days when I'm ready to take a break, I find I don't mind so much being interrupted!

Here are a few articles I've found to help my fellow writers navigate the joys and pitfalls of working from home.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Help Bullying Victims by Befriending Them

Do you know someone who is being bullied? Sometimes just including that person in your activities and group of friends can make all the difference. It certainly did for high school sophomore Chy Johnson in Queen Creek, Arizona.

A special needs student born with a brain disorder, Chy came home from school every day crying about what the other students were saying to her. Looking for answers, her mother contacted another student at the school who was a friend of the family. The family friend was the school's starting quarterback, senior Carson Jones who decided to take the matter into his own hands by inviting Chy to sit with him and his friends during lunch. She's been hanging out with the boys ever since and the bullying has stopped. (Read the article from here>>)

Imagine that a gesture as small as including someone in your conversation or inviting them to join you at lunch could make such a lasting difference. We all need a support system to help us navigate through life. I'm sure you can think of someone who needs a bit more support. Take that first small step and make a difference.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Sometimes I forget how blessed I am. Like many people, I tend to chew on the should-ofs, could-ofs, and would-ofs, becoming embroiled in thoughts that cloud the positive happenings in my life. I used to make bargains with myself: rollerblade six days a week and do a “gratitude” list for ten minutes out of an hour, and only then was I no longer obligated to stay positive. Unfortunately this left too much time to stew in the negativity. Usually I could talk myself into a better mood; at least I felt a better balance in my life. Nowadays, I forgo the bargaining and just gently remind myself to renew and review my gratitude list daily, or at least weekly.

I have recently given some thought on “Thanksgiving” and what it means to me. What am I thankful for? Well, for one, how could I not be thankful for two weeks in Honolulu? At this moment, the sun pours over the city, scattering diamonds across the water and deepening the melatonin in my skin. And I have savored a perfect latte while drinking in the beauty of early mornings gifted with magnificent rainbows arcing across a crisp blue sky.

But when I really think about it, my first thoughts are of the people in my life who enrich my soul and make my days count. After 37 years, my husband can still make me laugh out loud at his quick repartee and I thank God every day that I met him. And, I also thank God that I did not hit my husband yesterday for that most annoying remark! I have friends who are the glue that keeps me from falling to pieces. I once thought I was a loner, but what a goose I was to think I would want to inhabit a sterile world without friendships. I've come to realize that my aloneness was a prison; I am fortunate to have been paroled and to have formed relationships that sustain me, giving me the freedom to be myself—loved  and wanted for who I am.

And I do not say lightly that I love my family—feeling grateful for them uses up at least eight of the ten minutes I allot for reviewing my gratitude list. I am truly thankful for the relationship I have with my brother, who had the good sense to marry a woman I love deeply as a sister/friend, and their children.

As the holidays rush toward me, and as I shop, cook, wrap presents, decorate, and entertain, I am reminded that this is but one way, once a year, I can slow down, remember, and say how much I love and appreciate the positive happenings in my life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The New Trend of Nice it Forward

Have you heard about the latest trend in social media? "Nice it Forward" means to tweet or post nice things about your friends, classmates, friends, etc. Around the country, proactive students are using Twitter accounts designed specifically to create a more positive atmosphere around their schools.

Kevin Curwick of Osseo High School in Osseo, Minnesota is believed to be the founder of the Nice it Forward trend when he started a Twitter account this past July after seeing hateful tweets about several classmates. Via @OsseoNiceThings, Kevin compliments his fellow students for their abilities, accomplishments, positive attitudes, and much more. (Read the KARE11 News story about Kevin>>)

Other students at schools around the U.S. have started similar accounts and it appears the idea is spreading. For example, in response to Twitter accounts that were targeting students at their school, Cameron High School students in Cameron, Wisconsin started @CameronNiceThings to report on the positive things happening at their school. (Read the News article about Cameron High School>>)

I certainly believe this is an idea worth following: spread the kindness and let everyone know that technology can be used for good! What are you doing to create a more positive atmosphere at your school or workplace?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Students Talk About Bullying on Nick News

Hear what students have to say about bullying in this episode of Nick News with Linda Ellerbee from 2010. Friends and siblings of bullying victims who committed suicide speak out about their feelings. And victims and bullies are brave enough to share their stories. The segment also includes an interview with Barbara Coloroso, author of the book The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to HighSchool--How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle.

Nick News: Sticks, Stones and Cyberslams

Nick News: "Sticks, Stones and Cyberslams"
Get More: Nick News Episodes,Nick News,Nick News Games

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bullies are a Pain in the Brain

Bullies are a Pain in the Brain by Trevor Romain is an engaging read about dealing with bullies for kids in grades 3 to 6. Romain tackles this serious topic with his characteristic humor and fantastic illustrations. The book is chock full of useful information including why bullies are such a pain, what you can do about bullies, myths about bullies, and suggested books and websites for students, teachers and parents.

I particularly enjoyed the section of Do's and Don'ts for Dealing with Bullies:  Do stick up for yourself but don't fall to the ground pretending the bully is "irritating you to death". Although a bit silly at times, the book includes helpful suggestions like practicing in a mirror what you'd say to a bully, avoiding situations that leave you alone with a bully (when possible), and not feeling like a tattle tale if you go to an adult about what's happening. The author has also created an animated video based on the book (available on Amazon).

This is a book I definitely recommend...don't wait until your child is being bullied to start the conversation about what they can and should do to protect themselves and their friends.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

PSA: The Cyber Bullying Virus

Did you know that girls are twice as likely as boys to participate in cyber bullying? Or that 42% of teens have been bullied online at least once?

The PSA video below presents cyber bullying as a viral disease that can spread around the world and infect anyone. I particularly liked how Anger, Envy, etc. were the profile names of the cyber bullies and Courage, Hope, etc. were the profile names of the people who were standing up for the victim. The short video produced by the students at Strutt Central in Ontario, Canada  is thought-provoking and very well-done.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fall 2012 Book Events

This fall has been the season for sharing my books directly with readers during local book events. In late September, I exhibited at the Northwest Bookfest 2012 in Kirkland, WA where I shared a booth with Bill Westwood, the author of the young adult fantasy novel Shimmering. Our outdoor booth provided beautiful views of Peter Kirk park on the cool, sunny days. The free event was open to the public and featured author appearances and workshops. I enjoyed meeting some of my readers and fellow authors.

On Sunday, October 14th I attended the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association 2012 Fall Trade Show in Tacoma, WA. The show was open only to book industry professionals. The day was a marvelous success: I gave books away and made several valuable contacts with librarians and bookstore owners. I'd like to say a special thanks to those who stopped by the booth to tell me they support my mission and encourage me to keep writing about bully issues for the younger readers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Positive Messages in Songs: Lauren Irwin's Song Stand Tall

Stand tall, be firm
Stand tall, be hard
It doesn't have to be this way
Tomorrow is a bright new day

I've found another wonderful song with beautiful lyrics about standing up for yourself. In 2008, 17-year-old Lauren Irwin wrote the song "Stand Tall" as a tribute to her friend who was being bullied.

The song was the inaugural winner of the Anthony Walker Prize (Anthony Walker was a teen who was murdered in a street attack in 2005). After its translation into Mandarin, "Stand Tall" become the official song of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "Stand Tall" can be purchased as a digital download on iTunes or AmazonMP3.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hey U.G.L.Y.'s I AM ENOUGH Contest

Calling all students! Are you a writer, videographer, poet or songwriter? Want to help us spread the word about bullying? The bullying prevention organization Hey U.G.L.Y. (Unique Gifted Lovable You) is hosting its annual contest for work produced by students like you. The deadline is May 31, 2013.

 From the organizations's website: "So many of your fellow students, and the adults you know, feel like they are 'not good enough.' When a person feels this way it makes them prey for the bully and sometimes actually turns them into the bully. Not feeling good enough sets a person up to fail in school, relationships and life. You can help and at the same time vie for valuable prizes. Through video, song, poetry and essay, your wisdom can help youth across the globe understand and embrace that they ARE good enough." Get more information about the I AM ENOUGH contest here>>

 Curious about past contest winners? Here's an excerpt from Alicia MacDonald's winning essay: "Since there will always be people in the world who are better than I am, and people who are not as good as me I have learned to not listen to people's negative comments. I believe that there is no person in the whole world who knows you better than yourself, so why should I bother listening to others belittling comments. Listening to the lies in life only makes you unhappy, so I use my own sense of self-esteem for contentment." Read the entire essay here>>

Hey U.G.L.Y. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping youth be part of solution to bullying. Its programs focus on self-esteem issues and building empathy. Visit the site for more information>>

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Magic of Love, Heartbreak, Loss and Transformation

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender intrigued me from the start. It is about the magic of love, heartbreak, loss and transformation; making sense out of the complexities of life and relationships. The main character, Rose Edelstein, discovers she has a cursed gift of discovering hidden knowledge of people and their emotions revealed through the extrasensory perception in her taste buds. She kneels, offering ‘thank yous’, before a vending machine dispensing factory food that she can subsist on, while her brilliant brother finds his way into another universe. While fantastical, this story is grounded and the characters heartbreakingly real. Rose suffers with the knowledge her gift gives to her, but through it all she endures and matures. Although emotionally wrenching throughout the story, it is in the end uplifting.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Conversation with My Brother, The Bully

A few months ago I shared with you the story of my personal bullying experience as a child at the hands of my brother. Recently, I had the opportunity to have a candid conversation with my brother and get his perspective on being the bully.

Sister:  You admit that you bullied me?

Brother: I didn’t see it as bullying you. Just a form of teasing. It was fun to get you angry. And I knew you wouldn’t retaliate. Besides, my friend Mike teased his sister all the time. And we never got into any trouble for doing anything. There were no consequences for our behavior. Mom never said anything or punished me.

Sister:  What about the violence? The pain you caused me?

Brother: I don’t remember too much about that. That time I rammed the plastic pool boat into your face and chipped your tooth---I meant to hit your nose.

Sister:  You broke my front tooth. (What?! You wanted to break my nose?!)

Brother:  I didn’t think about it one way or the other. The time I beat up your friend, I just got out of control. I didn’t mean to bloody her nose.

Sister:  You didn’t even get grounded or any form of punishment. Mom forbid me from seeing my friend because she said she was the troublemaker.

Brother:  I know, like I said, no consequences. Mother tolerated my behavior, ignored it. I think if she had been a better parent and paid more attention to what was happening, then she would have come down on me and stopped me.  I think she insulated me from the reality of being a bully. And besides, you never fought back.

Sister:  It wasn’t worth it. You would hit me harder. You never thought once about my pain?

Brother:  Part of being a bully is ignorance of others’ pain. And a lack of respect for another. Part of my excuse then, is that I would get out of control. Even our father just said that he never hit his sister, why did I? But why wouldn’t I, if I could do anything I wanted and not have any consequences?

Sister:  Would you have stopped it if you had been punished?

Brother:  I think so. My wife called me a bully once and it shocked me. I was just teasing her and I thought nothing of it, until she reacted. The victim usually doesn’t fight back. Bullying is a form of dominance and lack of respect. I really thought about it and realized that I didn’t want my wife to be a victim of my bad behavior. I also wanted to be a better parent than mine, and set an example that I don’t think our parents did for me. Self-discipline and respect---those are values that are taught by one’s parents. With better guidance, I think I might have been a better brother.

Sister:  Well, it’s never too late.

As I sorted through my emotions and reactions, I realized I was less angry at my brother and more angry at my parents--my mother, whom we lived with full time, and my father, whom we saw a few weeks every few years. Why didn't they stop the bullying?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Exotic, Evocative and Spellbinding

These two marvelous literate books, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafo︠n written in the gothic genre, took me through a labyrinth of wonderment, tragedy and romance. Zafo︠n’s writing is exotic, evocative and spellbinding; his characters are heroic in an epic tale of doomed love, betrayal and intrigue. I read first The Shadow of the Wind, a fast paced mystery, then The Angel’s Game, a more mature and deeper exploration of characters, which actually takes place before the events in the The Shadow of the Wind. A skilled and true craftsman of words, Carlos Ruiz Zafo︠n, makes sensible the grotesque, mysterious and desolate landscape of the gothic novel. A truly magnificent feast of words and a wholly satisfying meal of two tales.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Does Doubt Lead You to a Deeper Conviction?

A review of A Prayer for Owen Meany
A strange and peculiar book, like the character Owen Meany himself, John Irving’s novel explores the vast realm of faith, justice and fate, through a narrative of a single person, John Wheelwright. John and Owen remain friends from boyhood to manhood, their fate intertwined when Owen accidentally kills John’s mother. Was it an accident or fate? Is Owen an instrument of God or merely a little, odd person with a queer voice? Does doubt lead you to a deeper conviction and stronger faith or acceptance and acknowledgment of God as omniscient and omnipresent? I found the narrative distracting, with Owen’s “voice” in all CAPS screaming his every profound thought. The main character John seemed nebulous to me, never quite acting his age as a boy, and immature as an adult, and through it all, I just never cared about any of the characters. After reading it, the aftertaste was a bit bitter with overtones of ennui.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Positive Messages in Songs: Dan Evan's Letter to My Addiction

Are you as excited as I am about the growing number of songs with positive messages being produced in the last few years? Music is a powerful medium, especially for reaching children and teens. I've found so many wonderful songs lately and I'll share some of my favorites with you in the coming months. In many cases, your purchase of these songs supports bullying awareness organizations.

This first song is from Dan Evans, a former Biggest Loser contestant turned songwriter/singer and motivational speaker. The song is a powerful message of hope and self-love especially considering how often many of us can be our own worst bully.

You can buy the digital version of "Letter to My Addiction" for only 99 cents and a generous portion of the proceeds from sales go to Hey U.G.L.Y. (Unique Gifted Lovable You), a non-profit organization founded in 2002 that offers programs to boost character development and self-esteem including programs for schools, contests, and a weekly radio show featuring inspiring music.

by: D.Evans / T.Leah / S.Lewis

I'm tired of hating me
And living with no pride
I'm letting go of you
Letting go of you
I'm taking back my life

I'm getting free at last
You're nothing but my past
And I'm not going back to how it used to be
When you had your hold on me
I'm getting free at last

Friday, September 7, 2012

Should We Hold Parents of Bullies Financially Responsible?

I recently watched the video of Karen Klein, the bus monitor from New York who was harassed unmercifully by four teenage bullies. (Read the article at the Huffington Post.) She received apologies from the parents and two of the boys. The four boys caught on video deriding, verbally abusing, taunting and throwing a book at the bus monitor received suspension, anti-bullying education classes and community service hours. The outrage from sympathetic viewers of the video on the web netted nearly $700,000.00 for Ms. Klein. According to the comments on articles written about the incident, some folks seem to believe that Ms. Klein should NOT accept the money or should donate it to charity.

The question for me is not whether she deserved the money, or what she should or should not do with it, but rather, who takes responsibility for these despicable actions and who should recompense for the pain and suffering of the victim. The punishment allotted the four bullies was justified and we can only hope that it has a positive effect on them. I, however, that the parents of the bullies should also bear a portion of the burden of responsibility for the incident.

Obviously, schools alone cannot teach children basic values of respect, tolerance and good manners; primary caretakers (in most cases parents) must also model these behaviors for their children. We all know that parents are responsible financially for their children until they come of age. I firmly believe parents should be liable for damages incurred by their children through thoughtless, inconsiderate, vicious, and reprehensible actions. One Canadian teenager who was bullied sued the parents of his tormentors, winning a judgment of nearly $400,000.00 and, sending a very clear message that parents are at least financially, if not morally, responsible for the behavior (and misbehavior) of their children.

Perhaps if we hit parents of bullies in their pocketbooks--threatening the retirement nest egg, the vacation, and the college education funds--the message would resonate far more deeply than suspension, ‘re-education’ or community service. I know I cannot afford to shell out a half million dollars for something my child should not have done in the first place. Can you?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month

 Please join me and thousands of educators, parents, students and community members in observing National Anti-Bullying Awareness month this October. Some communities are holding awareness events (see your local news or visit the Community Events list at Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center website). Many schools are hosting guest speakers and celebrating Unity Day on Wednesday October 10th. 

For more information on how you can spread the word, host your own event and more, visit Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center website.

Bullying Prevention and Awareness Facts

  • More than 160,000 U.S. students stay home from school each day from fear of being bullied.
  • Bullying directly affects a student’s ability to learn. Students who are bullied find it difficult to concentrate, show a decline in grades, and lose self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth.
  • Students who are bullied report more physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, than other students.
  • In some cases, bullying has led to devastating consequences, such as school shootings and suicide.
  • Bullying affects witnesses as well as targets. Witnesses often report feeling unsafe, helpless, and afraid that they will be the next target.
  • Bullying is a communitywide issue that must no longer be ignored or thought of as a rite of passage. Students, parents, and educators all have a role in addressing bullying situations and changing school culture.
  • The two keys to creating change are: increasing awareness that bullying has lifelong impact, and giving people the tools they need to respond effectively.
  • Students can be especially effective in bullying intervention. More than 55 percent of bullying situations will stop when a peer intervenes. Student education of how to address bullying for peers is critical, as is the support of adults.
  • Silence is no longer an acceptable response to bullying. Adults, students, and educators can no longer look away when they see bullying. Ignoring it won’t work. Everyone needs to be empowered with options to respond. 
(Facts courtesy of's Bullying Prevention Center website)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Plastic Surgery for Victims of Bullying

When I read the news story (and reader comments) about the Georgia girl who received free reconstructive surgery after being bullied for years, I wavered between being pleased that someone was willing to help her and outraged that she would need to have surgery at all. (Read the article at HuffingtonPost.) In a perfect world, a child born with “dumbo” ears, uneven facial features, and non-life-threatening deformities would not be penalized or stigmatized, but would be judged and accepted as a person. Our self-esteem would not be based solely on our peers’ assessment of how we should dress, talk, walk, and think, but come from our core values that define our individuality.

In reality, we all are judged, and we all judge, by appearance. We are bombarded daily with advertisements showing us how we are supposed to look, and with the right products, we surely can resemble that model. And, of course, we would be so much happier if we just got the right “look”. If we don’t get that “look”, we are not worthy of acceptance. Sometimes it is being ignored or passed over and sometimes we receive an ongoing barrage of insults, taunts and verbal abuse. For any child who has suffered the verbal lashings of children--and adults alike-- who took offense at some perceived deformity, I'm sure an opportunity to have the “problem” resolved would surely be a step to gaining self-confidence. Perhaps getting the “look” would be the first step inside the circle of peers, a step toward self-realization that need not focus on the outward appearance.

In a perfect world, we would not be judged by our looks or teased about them. In the real world, we are all different and, unfortunately, we have to deal with bullies who choose to judge us by our differences. Thank heaven for an organization like Little Baby Face Foundation that helps a child become a person, not just a victim.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What is the Value of Art in One's Life?

An interesting and thought provoking read, the book Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland weaves a tale using the history of a painting by Vermeer to explore the perceptions that people have of beauty and values. The painting transforms and affects lives of all ages, classes and genders. It poses the question of value: is art for art’s sake, for monetary, intrinsic value or personal gratification?

The painting itself saves the life of an innocent child and is the reason another innocent child’s life is taken. And throughout the history of the painting and the lives of those it touched, the questions come back for the reader to answer, transforming the past to the present, asking the reader the value of art in one’s life.

See what else I've read and am now reading by joining me on Goodreads and Shelfari...see you there!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Talking to Your Kids About Bullying: Letters to a Bullied Girl Can Start the Conversation

“Living well and being happy is the best revenge on those who bully us.”

“As you go through life, you will realize that there are a lot more of ‘us’ holding you up than ‘them’ putting you down!”

Letters to a Bullied Girl is a collection of some of the thousands of letters sent to Olivia Gardner, a teen who became depressed and left school after being relentlessly bullied there and online for being an epileptic. Teen sisters Emily and Sarah Buder read about Olivia’s ordeal in the local newspaper and decided to take action: they contacted Olivia’s mother with the idea of asking members of their community to write letters of encouragement and support to Olivia. After local and national coverage of the project, the sisters received thousands of letters from around the world. Some recount stories of being bullied now or in the past, some came from those who had been bullies themselves...all included words of insight, comfort and hope.

One former bully wrote, “I, along with several of my friends, made a girl’s life utter hell during middle school. I have never spoken about this to anyone because I feel so horrified that I had the capacity to be so mean to someone. It was heartbreaking to see your sad face on TV and hear you talk about your depression as a result of the bullying. I am sure that my actions created similar wounds in this girl. I will always live with the pain of knowing that.”

I highly recommend this book as a starting point for discussing the issue of bullying with the children in your life. The stories are touching and the emotions are real. My friend Jacquie Ream, author of several young adult books about bullying, has shared with me that she is often amazed at how often the children she speaks to about bullying say that they were “just teasing” and had “no idea” their words or behavior were causing so much pain. I wholeheartedly agree with Jacquie's approach to the problem: Let’s stop the cycle of bullying by bringing the feelings out into the open.

I hope you’ll be as moved and inspired by the stories in Letters to a Bullied Girl as I was. I’ll leave you with a parting thought from one of the letters in the book: “We as humans go through things in our lives that will be handled one of two ways: they will make you bitter or they will make you better. If they make you bitter, you will take it out on everyone else or blame other people for what has happened. If they make you better, your personality will be one that people will want to be around. You’ll be a person with a lot of hope in yourself and others.”

Read the book: Letters to a Bullied Girl by Olivia Gardner (Harper Paperbacks, August 2008)

Additional Note: if you visit to purchase this book (or read the reviews) you will see a video review from the author who shares information about her story that may have you question the authenticity of the book. I believe that the book stands as a valuable resource on its own merits even if portions of Olivia’s bullying story were not accurate as reported in the news (or in the book). The letters Emily and Sarah Buder received are real and there is still much to be learned from the stories the letters tell.

Guest Blogger Bethany Mitchell is a writer, artist and designer living in Seattle, WA. Reprinted with her permission.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Predictable and Satisfying Read

Predictable and satisfying, The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard presents the characters of the small town of Rose, Kansas. The story is rich in mystery, romance and murder, loves and betrayal, revenge and forgiveness. Jody Linder is seeking the truth about her family, and a lasting, real love. Can she find either? A good fast read until the end.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Am I a Character in Forcing the Hand of God?

I am often asked: are any of the characters in your novel Forcing the Hand of God based on you or your life? Yes, like many authors, I will admit that there is a bit of me in all of my characters and their experiences.

I was taking private flying lessons at the time of writing Forcing the Hand of God and had the great opportunity to have Colonel Jack Hayes as a flight instructor at Queen City Aviation. He flew in Korea and Vietnam and had quite a reputation as an ace. He and I simulated some maneuvers in the Cessna 150, he let me interview him for hours, and he read over my early manuscript, helping me to flesh out the character and events. Larry Vogel, my good friend and primary flight instructor, loaned me videos of the P-38 with detailed narration of the instruments and actual flight scenes. 

I also had the good fortune to be introduced to Bob Jarvis at the Hillman City Boxing gym who let me in the door and allowed me to spar a little. This was in 1982 when females rarely went into the smelly, testosterone-filled bastion of the boxing arena. I nearly wet my pants when Bob made me glove up and learn to dance a few steps. I remember pleading with him not to hit me in the face. He didn’t. Actually, the young man in the ring with me didn’t even touch me. But I sure did provide everyone with more than a few laughs, especially when I tried jumping rope. I won’t mention those hard, heavy stuffed body bags that swing unexpectedly right into you when you punch one and stand to admire your perfectly executed right jab. Well, one learns to pick oneself up and go on to another lesson.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

2012 NO BULL Teen Video Awards

Have you seen the videos that won the 2012 NO BULL Teen Video Awards last Saturday night in San Francisco? These amazing, thoughtful, and thought-provoking anti-bullying films were written and directed by teens as part of The Great American NO BULL Challenge, a 3-month national video contest. The winners were selected from thousands of submissions that were narrowed down to the top 100 via an online public voting process. The students who created the top 15 attended the star-studded awards ceremony where the winning films were announced and some fantastic prizes were awarded.

You can view the winning films as well as other submissions at The Great American NO BULL Challenge website.

Congratulations to the teen filmmakers of the 2012 winning videos!
Best Acting: It Follows You, by Jacob Hayworth
Best Community Involvement: Cypress Ranch Anti-Bullying Lip Dub, by Triple Oswald
Best Directing: Alone, by Hunter Hopewell
Best Message: STOMP OUT The Bullying, by Angel McGowan
Best Visual Effects: One Text, by Spencer Agren
NO BULL Documentary of the Year 2nd Runner Up: Alone, by Hunter Hopwell
NO BULL Documentary of the Year 1st Runner Up: Cypress Ranch Anti-Bullying Lip Dub, by Triple Oswald
NO BULL Documentary of the Year: The Formula: A High School Thesis, by Austin Barker

I’ve selected one of my favorite films from among the winners (trust me, it was hard to choose just one favorite) to share with you here: "One Text" by Spencer Agren. I particularly like its positive message about the power of technology to make our lives better. “The grass isn’t greener over’s greener where you water it.”

What’s next? The 2013 Great American NO BULL Challenge begins January 11, 2013 and I strongly encourage students in grades 6 through 12 to speak out about cyberbullying using the power of film. I am so looking forward to seeing what next year’s filmmakers create!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Share Your Favorite Books with Me on Shelfari

Hot on the heels of my joining, I've recently joined, another wonderful online social community for readers. My virtual shelves are filling up with the books I've read and I'm planning to post reviews of the books I've read soon. If you love to read as much as I do, be sure to connect with me on Shelfari! Find me on>>

Friday, June 29, 2012

Knight Errant: My Bullying Story

It is a long road winding through the memories of childhood, a journey that wearies me body and soul. For several days I have struggled with writing this essay on being bullied as a child. Reliving the abuse of childhood is almost as bad as being there and going through it.

Like many women I know, I was raised to be a nurturer, to understand that some young boys have anger issues, to forgive and forget, and to not blab any family secrets.  For good reasons, too, but the effects of these beliefs--physical and psychological-- can be debilitating. Not only does secrecy condone bullying, it fosters the notion that actions have no consequences.  I have been told this issue is a dead horse and to leave it behind me; but I am telling you, this old nag has a lot of voice left to bray about bullying.

My working mother raised two children on her own after my father walked out on us. He took the only car and closed the bank account, leaving in his wake two very young, sad children and a devastated wife with overdue bills and the social stigma of being a divorcee. But fortunately for us, most of our neighbors supported us, especially when the man next door, a social worker, petitioned to have me and my brother taken away from my mother. Ironically, that neighbor’s son was one of my worst bullies. Between him and my brother, I was tormented daily--verbally and physically. Once, as the neighbor boy was chasing me through my house to punch me, I pivoted in mid-stride and swung as hard as I could. I smacked his face and he went flying through a plate glass window, bouncing on his butt across the porch; fortunately for him, he had only a bruised ego. I, on the other hand, had to pay for the window out of my meager babysitting funds. My brother’s constant taunting, slugging, and bruising me--even once breaking my front tooth--was always dismissed by the adults around me as ”accidental”. Definitely not accidents--I was there, remember? Another neighbor boy, the oldest of five kids, the one I so wished had been my brother, was not allowed by his parents to harass, let alone, hit his sister. He often had the compassion to tolerate me as a handicap to him when we all played games together.

After a while, because it did no good to ”tattle”, I avoided being near my brother or anyone else, for that matter. At school, I was teased for being chubby and having “slanty” eyes, which adults were wont to assure me would be an asset when I grew up. Well, I used to wonder, how does that help me now? I learned to not trust, neither adults nor peers. All these years later, the muscles of my shoulders, and especially my neck, remain chronically and painfully tight, the aftermath of years of anxiety and tension from feeling unsafe. The interesting thing for me is that when I began to write this article, my shoulder and scalene muscles--that often tighten like hands choking my throat--have started to relax.  Perhaps it is the result of the gifted massage therapist I see regularly; perhaps it is because I am finally telling my story.

In my early thirties, my brother approached me with an offer of financial restitution for the dental work I had on my front tooth he broke when we were kids. It was more than a kind gesture, for it allowed us to openly discuss our dysfunctional childhood relationship and work towards an adult friendship. Our friendship did not happen overnight. We have had several head butting clashes since then, but I am truly thankful to know him as the loving and caring nice guy he turned out to be.

I would like to say that I have never encountered another bully as an adult, but sadly that is not the case. I married an older man, which has made me a target for some pretty nasty comments by adult bullies. I have been blind-sided by a relative I truly liked and respected whom I thought liked and respected me. Hit and run.  It is no accident that the bully uses this cowardly tactic to disarm his victim in a social situation. I was once  introduced to a room full of people by a man who is supposed to be a friend of my husband with the words, “His wife, who hasn’t yet taken his money and left him,” as if that was a very clever remark.  At that moment, I felt beneath a spotlight with uneasy eyes focused upon me, the bystanders waiting for me to make a scene, or swallow my pride and behave appropriately.  Then, at an extended-family celebration, I was sideswiped in the food line by a young woman I do not know with the question, “Older man, married him for his money, huh?” The one barb that hurt the most happened at the annual Christmas Eve dinner I host. An in-law I considered to be a friend whispered under his breath as I passed out presents, referring to a dispute over the pronunciation of a word.

In each instance, the bully counts on the fact that I will not disrupt the social situation and call him or her out in front of the others.  That I will not confront him. As in most bullying scenarios, it is a complicated situation. Any retort, unless exceptionally witty, will seem petty, or at best, a lame defense. If I challenge the bully, and spar verbally, then it has to escalate to a winner-take-all and leave the other bleeding. At a family gathering, then, do I want to lay it on the line, knowing eventually that everyone will have to take sides or feel so uncomfortable they want to leave early. It is a losing proposition. I am left resentful and wounded in all cases, and chew on the could-have-said-this, should-have-said-that roiling in my thoughts for too long.  Over the years and after much consideration, I have decided how to handle this sort of instance:  I refuse to be in the company of a person who disrespects me. I cannot “make” my husband disassociate from his friend, but I do not choose to be around the so-called friend and draw the line at my door when I am home. The young woman at the family dinner got the “rolling my eyes heavenward and sigh” routine that her remark deserved. My in-law with the proper speech fixation I avoid because I am not sure yet how to approach the subject.

Like other victims, I want to forget how confused, angry, and ill-treated I felt by the bullies and stop agonizing over what they said…what I did not say. There is an oft-told Zen Story that impresses me as I try to remind myself of the wisdom of letting go.
A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. They came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. She asked if they could help her.
The senior monk carried this woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing.
They both were walking and senior monk noticed that his junior was silent and enquired “You are upset?”
The junior monk replied, “As monks, we are not permitted a woman. How could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The senior monk replied, “I left the woman a long time ago at the bank.  However, you are carrying her still.”
A bully needs to feel powerful and does so at someone else’s expense, and conversely, is insecure about his/her own capabilities to be liked or respected by family, friends and associates.  It helps me to temper my reactions to think the bully is someone who is jealous, a soc-psych major impressed with herself, or someone needing to challenge authority. I remind myself that these bullies are the ones who suffer from their insecurities and eventually most people will avoid them. The one positive outcome from my life experiences is the awareness I have of my own actions and words. I think twice before saying anything that might have overtones of bullying. And I know how to convey a lot with a long sigh and an even longer stare. I just wish I did not even have to go there at all. I search for resolutions and reasons, justice and forgiveness, a knight errant on a quixotic crusade against bullies.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fellow Readers, Connect with Me on
I am excited to announce that I've joined, an online social community for readers with over 9.2 million members from around the world! Right now I'm busily adding books to my virtual shelves and soon I will start posting reviews of the books I've read. I'd love to connect with my fellow readers to see what you're reading and find new books to read. Find me on>>

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Can Kids be Taught to Become Bullyproof?

This interesting article at MSNBC (Can kids be taught to become bullyproof?) raises some valid points. It may seem strange to some people to train the "victims" to protect themselves but isn't this what we've been doing for decades with self-defense training for women? I personally believe that most children can benefit from learning basic social emotional skills like standing up for themselves and recognizing the warning signs.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Resources: The Wounded Child Project

"I have always been bullied by my peers, both girls and boys through verbal abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, in every way they could think of. I am now in the 10th grade and throughout the years of my life have changed schools four times, all for the same reason; I was being bullied. I never fit in with any group I was always an outsider looking in; No one wants to believe that they are the ones being laughed at. The popular girls used to make fun of me for my hair; they used to say that I was stupid, or laugh at me"

Sometimes you simply need to tell your story and know that you have been heard. Sometimes people need to hear real-life stories to understand how much something needs to change. This is the mission of The Wounded Child Project website.

Read the bullying stories of students, parents, and adult survivors. Or send in your own story and be heard.