A Month of Crazy Writing

November is National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.com) That means if you go to the website I indicated in parens, you can join thousands (maybe even millions? who knows, I’m bad in math) of crazy writers all over the world and write a 50,000+ word novel in a month.

That breaks down to 25 days of writing (for me, because I take a break on Sundays) which equals 2,000 words, roughly 5 type-written pages, or 7 book pages per day! If I’m fast, I can write 2 pages/hour. But when I’m slow, it can take all day. So you do the math… I’m going to be busy in November — oops, that’s today! So how many words have I written? 114, just what I’ve written above and that doesn’t even count 😦

This will be my 2nd year participating. Last year, I wrote “The Gifted Zaylin” which is still being edited. At the end of last November, I said it would be my last. And here I am now, considering the task once again. I may or may not finish this time. No promises, just a goal. So why do it?… Besides being an excellent exercise in writing every day, for me, it’s like having a baby. Eventually, you forget how painful it is. You see the cute little toes of a novel, grow into a walking toddler and then the thing you created starts to talk. And you love it when it’s sleeping (or working well) and you “hate it” when it’s not listening (or not working), but it’s alive and wants to thrive. So you forget the pain of birth and you do it all over again. Why, oh why? That’s why.

So if you dare, join me (or cheer me on). Buy a book or two on writing a novel, create a loose plot, then write with wreckless abandon. Then we’ll hug and kiss on the other side of November, with a novel (good or bad) in one hand and a glass of sparkling apple cider in the other (I am writing for young adults, after all).

When the euphoria of finishing ebbs away, the real tough part begins, taking the story deeper and doing the hard work of editing. It’s all part of the wonderful process or birthing a bouncing baby book.

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No TV Week: A Worthy Challenge

This last week students and families at Monterey Hills and Arroyo Vista Elementary Schools were encouraged to participate in “National TV Turnoff Week.” A special pajama story-time at each school was held on Thursday to drive home the value of turning off the TV, turning on a book, and sharing special moments together.

Consider the following statistics by “TV Free America,” a national nonprofit organization founded in 1994 and sponsor of the National TV Turnoff Week: number of minutes/week that the average parent spends in meaningful conversation with their children – 38.5, hours/year the average American youth spends in school – 900, and hours/year the average American youth watches TV – 1500.

The challenge to South Pasadena families was to turn off the screen, except online research for necessary homework. It is a straightforward and simple concept, right? Well, not so simple to accomplish.

To not engage in electronics was optional, but done in an effort to encourage more meaningful interactions with people (especially family) and discover the wonderful, sometimes forgotten world of physical activity and worthwhile pastimes (like reading, enjoying nature, and playing).

Translation: no video games of any sort, no movies, no computers, no smart phone browsing, no YouTube, no Facebook, no nothing I do all day. In this area, I failed. But my kids… they did great!

Arroyo Vista’s librarian, Joanna LaFave, distributed “Get Out & Play, Read A Book” guides. Inside, it encouraged families with a list of best books to read, non-electronic activities to try (from the South Pasadena Public Library), a PlayDough recipe, puzzles, and a certificate of completion to be exchanged for a prize.

LaFave also participated at home, but admitted, “It [was] hard on me because I’m a big sports fan.”

With a bright yellow “CAUTION” tape, included in the guide from Arroyo Vista, wrapped around our TV screen, my forth-grader was vigilant about sticking to the rules.

The computer was a necessity for me to do my work, so it was unrealistic to do away with that aspect all together. And my boys, thankfully, do not have the kinds of social connections I have online, but they will, all too soon.

But to rid the home of the extra media entertainment (TV, movies, games), I must admit, was refreshing! And most of the parents I spoke with agreed.

There was the occasional chanting from my four-year-old, “I want TV, I want TV, I want…” But beyond that, it was a good week.

One Arroyo Vista Parent, Suzanne Ebner, dusted off an aging “Clue” board game and enjoyed watching her son and his friend discover this new, yet ancient, form of entertainment, playing 3 times straight through.

Michelle Hammond, parent at Monterey Hills, did not watch much TV to begin with, so foregoing the screen was not too painful. But it also didn’t come completely easy either since she relies on it during dinner preparations, “It’s the only way she [younger daughter] won’t injure her big brother.” The most important thing for Hammond, “that he [older son in first grade] wants to do it himself. He’ll feel more accomplished if I’m not forcing him.”

A mother at Arroyo Vista, Gina Chang, said of the challenge, “There was no complaining from the kids [one in kindergarten and the other in second grade]. Especially if it’s a school-wide thing, they think, ‘why not.’” She noticed that certain TV viewing sometimes had adverse effects on her son with the occasional over-stimulation, causing him to be more ornery than usual. So the break was a welcome change for the entire family.

We live in an age where electronic media is as common as drinking water, perhaps more so since I definitely spend more time online than I do drinking the recommended water intake to keep me healthy.

Certainly, TV and electronics are not all-together evil, unless it becomes the glowing babysitter for hours on end. But it behooves us all to stop and think: can we use our time better? Can engaging the mind and body to actively learn something be better than passive learning via TV? What am I giving up to engage in this form of media?

Simply saying, “NO” to this omnipresence is a challenge for most and even a near impossibility for some. But it is an endeavor that is well worth the effort.

If you missed the official National Turn Off the TV challenge, and believe it could do you some good, do not wait to try and catch it next year (be honest, it’s probably just an excuse to not attempt it at all).

Rather, give yourself a healthy diet of periodic TV or electronics fasts. Read a book. Try a new hobby. Take a walk. Meet your neighbor and get them to stop watching TV. Re-think life. Do nothing. Talk with and really listen to the humans closest to you. Take the no electronic plunge or wade a bit by taking just one thing away for a day; you’ll be glad you did.

For an entertaining look at the effects of Television, I highly recommend a classic read by Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”

For kids (and kids at heart) to learn everything one should know and do while growing up, try “The Dangerous Book for Boys” by Gonn and Hal Iggulden and “The Daring Book for Girls” by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz.

The Beauty of Birthdays

I don’t like birthdays. One year, my parents almost forgot mine. I had to remind them at the end of the day… and I’m an only child!

The good-natured, broken-English response I received was, “Everyday your birthday!”

Truthfully, I’m not that bitter. Maybe I need some therapy. But I’m not bitter. Snicker, snicker.

Don’t misunderstand, my childhood was and my parents are wonderful in many ways. But when it comes to birthdays, my family has an obvious deficiency.

So as my big 4-0 approached (or encroached) I welcomed it with arms open wide, like I would an obnoxious nagging in-law, come to stay a few weeks.

Only, getting older never goes away, at least, not in this lifetime. So I’ve had to find a way to make the most of it.

Some of my more celebratory friends believe that birthdays are often things for which to look forward. In the spirit of growing older with grace and wisdom, as opposed to becoming the town’s grumpy old woman, I have tried, really hard, to see it from their perspective.

So I attempted to make sense of and unearth my own way of honoring a milestone. And what did I discover?

I am a beauty whore. (Please don’t stop here, lest you receive a completely deranged version of what I’m about to dissect.)

I am infatuated with and addicted to beauty – not the kind in Cosmopolitan magazine; but of all things beautiful, I am obsessed (scenery, art, food, well-behaved children, you get the idea.)

What does this have to do with birthdays? For me, it’s a time to remind myself of beauty in my life, past, present and future.

I’ve been known to find beloved authors and devour their works in a week (if they have fewer than 3 books). When I find music that inspires, I will listen to it continuously until my children’s ears bleed and they’re begging for mercy. And God help me if I find a television series that sucks me in, I will go without long stretches of sleep for days, resembling a zombie to find out who done it.

But I’m not only neurotic with beautiful mass media. One year I decided to visit just about every museum and architectural gem in LA (buying membership at half the sites and finding “free” days for the others), determined to revisit all year long and soak in the masterpieces that surrounded my South Pasadena home.

Inspirationally beautiful dance, artistically delicious food, visually breathtaking vistas, powerfully awesome weather and selflessly caring people can make me downright emotional when I glimpse their depth and grandness.

And more often than not, the old adage rings true, the simplest things in life do bring the greatest joy. I love listening to my kids play the piano or crack silly mindless jokes. I enjoy the farmers market, watching my children play around the ginormous exposed roots of the old Moreton Bay Fig by the library, walking by historic structures, and taking our dog and kids for a walk at Garfield Park. I look forward to breakfast at Gus’s on the weekends and a good red velvet cupcake from My Sweet Cupcake that can cure all ills.

My heart sings when humanity trumps selfishness, when friends fight for and find reconciliation, or when love is enough. Beauty and a healthy dose of your mortality combined can move and motivate. Birthdays are an excellent reminder of these.

When my 40th birthday arrived this year, to my pleasant surprise, it felt good. I was hopeful to fulfill my bucket list, to experience beauty and share it with others.

Whether at Christmas, in death (remembering a life), or during cheeseburger week (a recent reality in Pasadena) or on your own birthday, a friend’s birthday or a city’s birthday, whether you’re 4, 40 or 124… celebrating is important, giving us reminders to live life in the fullest most beautiful way possible, no matter our current circumstance.

It’s a time of renewal, to align or realign all the riches you want out of the short time we have on earth. And if you look deep enough, monetary value has nothing to do with it (although, money doesn’t hurt.) Rather, your riches and gifts are made more beautiful when shared with those who need it the most, in your community and around the world.

I still don’t like birthdays. But drown it in beauty and I may tolerate it.

Happy 124th, South Pasadena! May we, the community at large, be a landscape of all things beautiful, embracing the challenges (and challenging people) while celebrating what we already have and the beauty yet to come.

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Susan G. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood – SAD!

The recent heated discussion…The Susan G. Komen (SGK) organization will not be giving more grants to Planned Parenthood (PP) for breast cancer screenings. It’s not because of obvious reasons. Read on…

My Response:

Please take a closer look… SGK is not taking $ away from those who need it most! (And PP is THE only avenue where “people who need it the most” receive help?) Just the opposite.

SGK is doing all women and supporters a favor by using $ more efficiently (going forward, not even rescinding current grants) by helping women, more directly (PP wasn’t doing that, making the screening process more costly).

It’s unfortunate that PP has made this into a political fight about one’s leaning in abortion. Shame on you, PP, for demonizing SGK. You’ve done ALL WOMEN a disservice in mislabeling SGK to further your own desire for their $.

Furthermore, even if the SGK decision was based on the investigation of PP, even more of a reason for SGK to put their $ into groups that are clearly not having issues that can potentially take even more $ away from “those who need it most.”

PP – Revamp the way you use your grant from SGK to help your women in a more direct and measurable way (like any responsible company) and SGK said they’d give more $ to you in the future. It’s that simple.

PP, please don’t try to divide people from an organization trying to do their best to help all women. This is not about abortion, it’s about ending breast cancer.

for more: http://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/blog/2012/02/01/the-accidental-rebranding-of-komen-for-the-cure/

What Would You Wish?

Peace-tagged olive trees, elementary school children, and Yoko Ono have converged on South Pasadena’s soil.

At Arroyo Vista Elementary (AV), children in all grades, K-5, drew or wrote their wishes for peace on sending labels and tied them to the branches of two donated olive trees.

While picking-up my son at school, I noticed a few children sifting through branches of these lofty potted trees, intently reading what looked like blossoms from afar. They were reading wish-filled tags, saying, “Hey, listen to this one…”

Intrigued, I too, read some… And I actually began to tear. Then I laughed. And then I did a double take. Surprised by what I read, I was in awe at the profundity of children’s hopes:

“I wish that my Geanie Pig was still with me and my sister.” “I wish my sister and brother wouldn’t fight with me.” “I wish my mom and dad wont fight anymore.” “I wish that everyone had a bed to sleep in.” “I wish we had a much cleaner and non-polluted WORLD” “I wish that all of the animals would be free and safe.” “I wish that people got more money!$” “No more war” “I wish that God will bless the solgers in the war fighting for this wonderfol place.” (Quotes are as is.)

As we live amidst an ailing economy, wars fought for the greater good, and hurting people, the hope for peace is often a distant ethereal dream. But without that dream, where would we reach?

Leslie Brill, volunteer parent and secretary at AV, took an active step toward peace and initiated the Wishing Tree Project out of a desire to inspire the children by providing an opportunity to voice their hopes while celebrating the United Nations’ International Day of Peace (September 21) “to recognize the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace… It is also a day of ceasefire – personal or political,” added Brill. And her hope for the kids was “to think of a wish that was bigger than their selves.”

When the principal, Cheryl Busick, was asked about what she especially liked about the project, she responded, “I love walking out in the courtyard and seeing 6-12 students gathered around the quotes. It’s so inspiring knowing that these kids can change the world and make our school’s wishes come true.” Her own wishes include, “Happiness for all – I am a believer that if kids are happy, they will learn.”

A wish tree is not a new concept. Many cultures have their versions of a wish tree: the Norfolk Island Pine in Australia from the early 1800’s, the sacred Camphor tree at Meiji Shrine in Japan, and a healing ash tree in Scotland, to name a few.

At the core of these wish trees, there is a sense that certain trees have unique, even supernatural quality that draw people to whisper wishes toward it, touch it, walk around it, or place their written wishes on branches or at the base. For many, these decorated trees are a reminder and a representation of peace, hope, and a common unity that serves us all well (like the olive trees at AV).

The project at AV was modeled after one done by Yoko Ono, an artist, performer, and widow of John Lennon. Since 1981 she began to popularize the wish tree with her interactive “Wish Tree” project that spanned the globe. People in various cities placed their wishes on tags and tied them to branches of various trees.

Heavy and drooping with wishes, Ono eventually collected the one million plus tags and placed them in capsules around the “Imagine Peace Tower” of light in Iceland, her art piece commemorating her late husband while promoting peace and solidarity. The unveiling of the tower occurred in 2007, and was recently relit on October 9, 2011 in memory of Lennon’s 71st birthday.

With the holidays quickly approaching and the decking of our beloved trees and homes upon us, I search for meaningful traditions to help my kids think beyond the tangible joys of the season (lights and presents). The wishing tree project inspired me to prepare for a new tradition for our family this year: placing our written wishes on the Christmas tree and maybe even the trees outside our home, then choosing a couple and making them come true through the new year. Maybe you can do the same or some creative version of it.

This way, wishes are more than lofty dreams, they’re stepping-stones to a new reality.

Inspiration in South Pasadena

Whether born and raised here or adopted into the heart, like myself, South Pasadena is a haven, rejuvenating the soul, for those who value the warmth of a small town set comfortably in a modern world.

As I live in and enjoy my neighborhood, I am thrilled to consistently discover new gems to enliven my soul. Whether it’s learning to bake pizza at Fiore Market Café or being inspired during an author night at the South Pasadena Library, I’m deeply grateful for the place our family calls home.

With a rich history (officially incorporated into a city in 1888) and a vibrant future that is evident in the proud residents who occupy it, SOUTH Pasadena (the “crown of the valley”) draws in the population with a magnetism that keeps spirits and house prices high.

Immersed in our walkable city (“Tree City USA,” in fact) are excellent schools, an award-winning Farmers’ Market, good eats, remarkable turn-of-the-century architecture, large exotic (albeit ridiculously loud yet lovely) parrots, and a landmark vintage water tower overlooking friendly citizens (among many other charms I hope to highlight in the months ahead).

On the west, we have the southernmost section of the Arroyo Seco greenbelt, full of opportunities for outdoor enjoyment, from horseback riding stables, tennis courts, and golf courses to athletic fields, batting cages, and an open-air skate park.

We have a decent-sized hill in Monterey Hills; and for better or for worse, a train (which my sons happen to love) flowing through our nostalgic downtown mom-and-pop shops. We have a freeway of our own in the 110 and we proudly don’t have another freeway in the 710. So our topography is certainly varied and our resolve to keep our environs healthy, solid.

All of this (mini overview) to say: our town, however small (consisting of 3.44 square miles), is large on stimulating the psyche. Whether you are part of an exclusive umpteenth generation of South Pasadenans or moved in yesterday, there are treasures galore to enjoy, old and new.

As we journey into all that makes South Pasadena beautiful, I hope to walk with you as we discover (or rediscover) that which ignites our being – to see, to feel, and to give back to our diverse community, inspiring the senses, inspiring the soul.

Facts to support this story were found on the City of South Pasadena website and Britannica.com  

A Solemn Remembrance

9.11.11

A quiet strength rose from the people gathered to remember a local life lost in the tragedy of 9/11.

In memory of Sue Kim Hanson (SPHS 1984), husband Peter Hanson, and their 2-year-old daughter Christine, who died on United Airlines Flight 175 as it crashed into the World Trade Center’s South Tower, a plaque was dedicated in the courtyard of City Hall this past Sunday, September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on American soil.

As Mike Ten, South Pasadena’s Mayor, made his opening remarks, there was an immediate call for us as a community to “connect to yesterday.” Through remembering, honoring, and volunteerism, we, as a South Pasadena family, can make a difference for our future, in light of the thousands of innocent lives lost, many heroes, because of all that unfolded from that infamous day.

The tribulation of September 11, 2001 can feel distant and surreal as seen repeatedly on television or heard on the radio. But when you are a part of a neighborhood event, like the remembrance service and dedication on Sunday, there is a direct and personal connection to the grieving and a renewed sense of hope to put petty things aside and further peace, whether in a broken relationship, within a city, or between nations.

Kevin Danni, former South Pasadena resident and survivor of the attacks on the World Trade Center, shared his memory of that fateful day, giving us a taste into the chaos at ground zero. As Danni descended the stairwell in the World Trade Center’s South Tower, fire fighters ascended, repeating encouraging words to keep heading down, where safety lie ahead. Twelve minutes after he exited the tower, it collapsed. To this day, Danni cannot stop thanking local heroes, like firefighters and police for their constant service, putting others lives before their own.

Along with the dedication of the memorial plaque for City Hall, and a “peace” plaque written in Korean for the High School, family and friends of Hanson gave brief tributes to the woman they loved. Not only did Hanson attend UC Berkeley and was at the tail end of finishing her PhD at Boston University’s School of Medicine, she was remembered as a vibrant personality.

As depicted by Hanson’s cousin, Ji Sung Kim, despite a rough transition to the States at 5-years-old, from being raised by her grandmother in Korea to living with parents in South Pasadena, “To me, she is a symbol of survival.” Hanson helped to keep the American dream alive as a fruitful member of society, when her and her family’s lives were abruptly halted.

Francie Schwarz (SPHS 1984) was at UC Berkeley with Hanson when running into her on the street. She remembers that interaction well because on the spot, the effervescent Hanson wrote a poem about Schwarz. “What kind of a person would just be able to do that? She’s just so confident and so engaged in the world around her…” states Schwarz with a grin.

A close friend from elementary school on, Ann Wyatt Moore (SPHS 1984) added of Hanson “Being in South Pas was one of the best parts of her life… She felt accepted and loved.”

I am especially encouraged by these personal reflections because they give a deeper picture into the life of a soul who walked among us. One way to help our society is to accept and love others as Hanson felt in South Pasadena.

Ten closed the morning’s event with a call to action on our part, in honor of the lives lost on 9/11, “to stand up, step forward, and make a commitment to get involved… to make things better.”

If you missed the ceremony on Sunday, visit the plaque anytime, outside in the foyer of City Hall because goodness and strength is aided by remembering.

I remember that awful day. Just weeks earlier, I had found out I was pregnant with my firstborn. As a new mother, I had swelling hopes for my child, to come into a world full of possibilities. So when I witnessed the unfolding attacks via media, I held my belly as tears fell, not only for the lost American lives, but for the next generation who would never understand life without the threat of localized terrorism. I thought, “What kind of world am I bringing my child into?”

But since then, my hope is being renewed. There are still threats looming about us daily, but to be paralyzed by them is far from the answer. Rather, when I am faced with my mortality, I’m invigorated and empowered to live life well, for myself and for others.