Monday, February 13, 2017

The Sweet Life

I’ve spent the first couple of months of 2017 doing what matters, and asking myself—why is it that anything that matters to me is so much work?

You’d never guess it by the number—or rather the lack—of blogs I’ve posted, but I’ve spent the last month on writing projects.  I can tell because my clothes fit snugger.  I can’t write without chocolate and coffee. 

The projects I’ve been working on pertain to cancer awareness and nuclear literacy.  One day soon I hope to share them, but until then here’s a look behind the scenes at the sweet life of a writer and some of its technical aspects. (The reasons I need coffee and chocolate.)

The author’s desk:                                            Coffee table where I really work:

 Reality:                                                                         Author Pic: 



Since relocating from North Carolina to Tennessee via a detour in Alabama, I have neglected certain aspects of my writing career. 

2017 Goals:

  • Format Tickles Tabitha's Cancer-tankerous Mommy for POD.

  • Format both Tickles Tabitha and Nuclear Power: How a Nuclear Power Plant Really Works! for Kindle.

I spent last year transferring my website to a new server. Living off-the-grid without an internet connection in Tennessee does not make these projects easy, or my Verizon bill cheap. 

In 2001, when Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy was first launched, Kindle, Publish on Demand (POD) and social media as we know it did not exist. It wasn’t until 2014 that Amazon invited authors to publish children’s picture books on Kindle.

I may have learned a thing or two since my first book was published. I’m pretty sure the guy I hired to help update and format the Tickles Tabitha book wishes I were still clueless.  I feel as if I’ve nitpicked him to death.

My real goal is to have it all automated, so I can concentrate on other things. Like watching the contractors working on the house… in case I have to dial 911. 

Seriously, working on the side of a mountain is not for wussies.  Our Tennessee home is finished, but the outdoors is a work-in-progress. 

 It ain’t easy gazing into a computer screen when I could be looking at this:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Do Something Meaningful: See YOUR Calling!

Surfing through my Instagram feed I saw that my entrepreneuring friend Elizabeth Braswell had taken on a new venture, so I scrolled through to see what she was up to this time. The beautiful photo above and the following post caught my attention:

Sometimes that thing you're called to is just staring you in the after day after day. This was our mantle for two years. A white buck. A gathering sign. A clock. The time had not come yet...but when it did it came fast and furious. If  I was a betting girl...I’d bet some of you are sitting on couches and club chairs...journaling and contemplating that call on your life...and it's probably right front of you...staring at you until at just the right time you SEE IT. Like really...REALLY see it. #mountainlife#lodgelife #whitebucklodge....Elizabeth Braswell

From the couch where I was sitting I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “You’re so full of it!”  and felt annoyed because… well,  I had been contemplating my life, feeling in limbo, and at odds with myself! Only my calling wasn’t right in front of me. My life was just never that easy.

Feeling piqued, I returned to the article I had been working on for a cancer awareness magazine.  There staring at me in the words I had written and reread a few hundred times was my own calling and mantra for 2017. 

Do Something Meaningful

This is not a new calling for me, and a few paragraphs later I had also written an explanation for why I all too often choose not to SEE IT!  

What I thought I wanted and what I was meant to do were often at odds.

January doesn’t just usher in a new year for me, but also my Breast Cancer Anniversary.

This year it will be 23 years since I was first called to Do Something Meaningful and got shoved by cancer down a path to becoming an author, publisher, speaker, and advocate.

In 1994 my Do Something Meaningful meant watching my children grow up, and if –God forbid– I didn’t get to, to leave them something that would remind them how much their mother loved them.

There were days when Do Something Meaningful meant having the courage just to get out of bed and face the world. (šŸŽ¶ Mama said, there’ll be days like this…) So much has changed, but this still holds true. 

This year I have resolved once again to quit wasting whatever time I have left and to Do Something Meaningful with it. Meaningful is such a beautiful word, and like art its beauty and significance is in the eye of its beholder.

This beholder plans to write more often, worry less, and try to find the courage to get out of bed and do what I was meant to do even though it’s all too often NOT what I thought I wanted!

Here’s to finding meaning in 2017!

The awe-inspiring Elizabeth Braswell and her husband Keith, traded rat race for slow pace, city life for mountain life, titles for time, stress for rest....Now they are following their calling and RE- igniting a mountain lodge in Moravian Falls, North Carolina. Follow their journey at

More info about me, can be found at Nutcracker Publishing.Com

Friday, October 07, 2016

BREAST Cancer: Yesterday’s RisquĆ© - Today’s Yawn

Artist AleXsandro Palombo  series called “Survivor” that imagines what well-known female cartoon personalities ...

A few decades ago I deleted an entire segment in the TicklesTabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy manuscript, because talking about breasts in a children’s book about breast cancer was just too risquĆ©.

When it comes to addressing topics others deem risquĆ© or offensive, it appears I’m no longer a step ahead of popular perception, but have fallen on my unbleached butt and can’t get up.

I've fallen and can't get up!

Now that I’m almost retired, I spent my summer arranging potential “Summer Adventures 2016” journal entries for my grown children, ensuring my landscaping survived the hottest East TN summer in years, doing DIY projects in the basement, and -every once in a while- checking in to see what type of stories and/or experts the media is looking for these days.

Some of what I learned sure was… educational.

For example, I learned that freelancers were looking for experts on butt bleaching. Even more enlightening, I learned that I need not have bothered running a google search on butt bleaching, I could have just asked my children what that was.

In my previous blog, I gave some of the backstory and backlash regarding the controversy surrounding my children’s book about nuclear power plants.  In the wake of Fukushima it is not difficult to understand why a children’s book about nuclear power plants might not be a welcome edition on everyone’s book shelf, but a children’s book about cancer?  

“Why would you ever want to do a book about nuclear power,” asked one of my colleagues, “after establishing a career based on a sweet, beloved, children’s book about cancer?”

His comment only goes to show: Yesterday’s controversial and risquĆ© is today’s yawn.

In the late 1990’s, when I first pitched my sweet, beloved children’s book about cancer it was not considered so sweet. It is unimaginable today, but back in 1994 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was discussed in hushed tones amongst adults, over the heads of bewildered children.

Talking to children about nuclear power would have been far less controversial than a children’s book about cancer. Especially one that included the emotional mood swings (depression) pictured in Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy.  If cancer wasn’t depressing enough, one critic (another writer) told me the mommy in my story (a nicer version of myself) was just too mean!  

I did receive some positive critiques from several well-respected mainstream publishing houses. They loved the story, but there just wasn’t a market for it. After all, young mothers with children didn’t usually get breast cancer… I was just unlucky.  They left out the part about me being unlucky.

I didn’t know it at the time, but for any unknown aspiring author to receive any comments at all from an editor was huge. I thought they felt sorry for the cancer mommy, so I packed up my manuscript and focused on LIVING.  

Today it’s common knowledge that young women do get breast cancer, good moms aren’t always nice, and even moms without cancer get depressed. If you’re in the book business you know that editor’s affiliated with large publishing houses care about marketing potential and not the feelings of aspiring writers, whether they are dead or alive!  

Just about everything I experienced back then sounds unbelievable to young people today, and makes for humorous story-telling. If only living it had been as funny! This October it will be fifteen years since my children's book on cancer was published, and made its debut on the Rosie O Donnell talk show. 

We used to have a saying when I was a kid: Last laugh’s the dog’s laugh.  Woof, woof, is sort of how I feel when I reflect on my experience writing and publishing Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy!  

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! 
And a reminder to women of all ages to examine their breasts!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Radiation: Friend or Foe?

That’s the controversial question asked in the fall edition of Talking Story, an e-newsletter for educators. Talking story is published by authors Carol Baldwin and Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Most of their readers are teachers, media specialists, or homeschool parents.  They stuff every issue with links, books, learning activities, GIVEAWAYS, and people related to a particular theme. 

I’m radiating with happiness to announce that one of the people featured in their newsletter’s fall edition on radiation is Andrew Handley!  Andrew is the talented, young graphic designer who illustrated my children’s book, Nuclear Power: How A Nuclear Power Plant Really Works! 

According to Joyce, the goal of Talking Story is not to promote one opinion or another about radiation, but rather to encourage students to take a look at the use of radiation in medicine, energy production, warfare, etc.  They hope to stimulate students to thoughtfully consider the various ways radiation is used in our society and to connect them to literature and writing activities on the topic.

This is what I love about writers and authors like Joyce and Carol who are also educators.  Whether they agree with a topic or not, they understand the importance of allowing a child to learn about it. 

After all, one way to learn about, understand, and give an educated opinion on a topic is to study both sides of an issue, right? Who wouldn’t want a child to do that?

As I have discovered during my career as a children’s book author: Plenty of people!

So many that when Joyce contacted me regarding using the illustration featured in her newsletter, I ran a google search on both her and Carol before replying.

I wasn’t always so jaded, but then a children’s book about nuclear power plants wasn’t always so controversial.

In fact, when I first started marketing my book about nuclear power plants, its topic was perceived as so lackluster the book almost didn’t get published. Not even the nuclear industry, due in part to the United States post- Three Mile Island safety record, was all that thrilled about a children’s book about nuclear power plants.

Community relations and educational school programs on nuclear power plants like the one I had created and administered in the 1980’s were no longer deemed necessary. 

In the 80's our  school program was front page news.
This came as a surprise to me.  Elementary education was well funded back in the days I worked in the nuclear industry. We fielded requests not only from schools, but all types of civic groups who were interested in learning how the local nuclear plant worked.  

In 1983, that's me
 presenting to a class of sixth graders.

Back then nuclear power was a hot topic, (pun intended) but this didn’t make the information I was required to teach any less yawn-provoking.  The book I eventually wrote—and Andrew so brilliantly illustrated—is a creative spin on a brochure I used to hand out to my students. 

Nuclear Power: How a Nuclear Power Plant Really Works! is the type of book I had wished for back when I was doing my school programs about nuclear power plants.  I wanted to pique the interest of children who didn’t always grasp the technical, but responded to art or stories.  (Kids like me.)

One of the illustrations that sold me
on Andrew, but is not pictured in the book.

I had forgotten all about this book idea, until 2002 when my family moved from Minnesota to North Carolina where not too far from our home was a nuclear power plant.  While other children spent summers at the beach, mine got visits to the nuclear plant.  (This is where my children would insert what they call “my evil laugh.”)

The book had been work-in-progress for years by the time I hired Andrew to illustrate it, and started to seriously market it.  What most laypersons do not realize about publishing a book is that sales, marketing, industry reviews, and a host of other things begin years before the book is actually published.

It was during this time that I decided there just wasn’t enough interest in my book to justify publishing it.  I told my husband I was going to pay Andrew for his work, and just forget about it, until the “nuclear renaissance” that was often mentioned in the media actually happened.  Maybe then there would be more interest.
A young boy I spied reading my book,
while I was at the Dentist. 

The words were hardly out of my mouth when Japan was hit by a tsunami, and the Fukushima nuclear accident occurred. If ever there was a time children might need, and parents might want an explanation about how a nuclear power plant worked, I thought that might be it.

I soon discovered not everyone felt the way I did.  I can laugh about it now, but try to imagine spending years on a story you wrote for good intentions, and then being publicly bullied for it on social media.  Most of my critics had never even read the book. I know this because at the time they commented the book had not been released to the public yet.  The only way to obtain a copy was via its author …that would be me.

So when Joyce contacted me regarding permission to use one of Andrew’s illustrations from my book, and said their next issue was going to be titled Radiation: Friend or Foe?  I ran a quick “friend or foe” google search, and immediately (before they could change their mind) responded that I was more than grateful to her for addressing the topic without prejudice. Then I gave myself permission to glow… with happiness. 

Thursday, June 02, 2016

When Traveling Abroad meant Texas!

Tabitha, center with her XploreAsia colleagues-yep they're exploring!
My millennials, who had returned to the roost, figured out their next venture and flew off. Tabitha flew to Thailand for a programs internship.  You can read about her adventures on her blog: Keeping Tabs

Jordan and his TESOL classmates, he's the tall one on the right.

Jordan flew to Costa Rica to hone his Spanish
and teach English as a second language.

 Although I love them both with all my heart and cried big fat crocodile tears when I dropped them off at the airport, I was not unhappy to see them go! I will never not worry about them, but I am happy that they are happy and they left with my blessing.

It brought back memories of my own departure from the small community of Walnut Hill, Florida. I couldn’t wait to leave home and see the world.

That's me atop that TX Longhorn.
That experience is why I always advised my children to see the world while they’re young and unencumbered. Pretty much the exact opposite of the advice my parents gave me!

After college the Peace Corps was not encouraged, and becoming a flight attendant (my original career goal) wasn’t feasible for lack of demand. So I hightailed it to the most exotic location I could get away with—Texas!

For the female millennial who finds this definition of exotic unbelievable and/or hysterical, it’s only because you have never been expected to find a husband prior to finding a career, advised that your best possible career options were nursing or teaching, or were turned down for employment with degree in-hand because the company you applied to didn’t need any secretaries.

When I graduated high school in 1977 I was encouraged to marry a doctor, not to become one. Young women were just beginning to do things like enlist in the armed forces.

Bucket List: Become s a Flight Attendant, check!

At my parent’s house, the mere mention of traveling outside the paradise they fondly (and embarrassingly) referred to as Solomon’s Happy Hill Farm was just proof that my brain was damaged at birth. And while my brain damage was common knowledge in my immediate family, they didn’t want the neighbors or the rest of the world to know.

As a child I once overheard my father exclaiming to my mother that, while he was pumping gas at the local gas station, a woman who appeared to be educated and decent was purchasing gas while traveling from out of state—and she was traveling alone! My farmer dad cultivated chauvinism like he did soybeans. There were some things decent women just didn’t do, and traveling across the country without a male chaperone was only one part of a long list.

I couldn’t wait to leave home and become indecent.  

You would think at age 56, I would be impervious to the guilt heaped on me by my parents, but nope. I’m sandwiched between my son complaining that I’m a helicopter parent for expecting him to check in from Costa Rica, (his sister is keeping tabs) and my parents who blame me for their grandchildren not being in the United States of America.

My mom: Have you heard from Jordan?
My white lie secured via Instagram: Why yes… He’s doing his practice teaching.
Reality: Has Hades had an ice storm yet?
It’s not lost on me that my own children often offer me a large helping of exactly what I fed my parents when I was their age.

If only guilt was as sweet as the cream horns I crave.

Reality....                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               how I wish it was....

Off to Costa Rica

Zooming thru Hua Hin on a motorcycle.

Update: Apparently Hades does get ice storms.

Congrats to Jordan and his classmates who are now certified to teach English as a second language!

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Train Ride to Heaven: A Love Story about Living, Dying and ALS.

Today I have the privilege of posting my review for a memoir written by a school friend:

Train Ride to Heaven is author Vanessa Maholovich’s heart-rending memoir about her husband Glen’s fatal struggle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis  (ALS) or what is better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Emotionally it was not an easy read for me, which is why I could not put it down.

Vanessa and Glen Maholovich and I went to school together. They graduated in 1975, just two years ahead of me, and I grew up in the same rural Alabama-Florida panhandle communities that Vanessa so thoughtfully details in her book.

When I think of Glen Maholovich I still picture that curly-headed (afro curled perms were the style, but his was all natural) boy, running off the football field after a game, grinning. Everyone knew he was searching for Vanessa, who would be waiting on the sidelines to embrace him.

Vanessa’s memoir made me homesick for the people and places I left behind all those years ago. It made me laugh, and it made me cry as I reflected on those optimistic, unjaded children we once were before life experiences -and diseases like cancer and ALS- turned us into grown-ups.

In her memoir Vanessa describes Glen as smart, imaginative, innovative, and funny, the type of person whom everyone liked and no one had a harsh word for; she could just as easily have been describing herself. I would also add that they were unpretentious. 

Vanessa and Glen 's Wedding 1975 
They were those rare high school sweethearts that everyone liked because both individually and as a couple they were kind, considerate, and thoughtful to all their peers. If Hallmark made their story into a movie it could conceivably be the first time Hollywood actors were not more alluring than the people they portray.

Facebook did not exist back when we graduated from high school, and prior to it I could count on one finger the number of school chums I had kept in contact with.  It had been decades since I had seen Vanessa, but my parents still resided in the panhandle community of Walnut Hill, Florida, and it was my good fortune to run into her on a visit home.  She expressed such joy that we had bumped into each other and it was a pleasure to reconnect. I had no idea that Glen had only recently died, nor what they had gone thorough until much later, when I read her book.

Train Ride to Heaven first came to my attention via my Facebook feed! It was such a profound moment when the book arrived and I saw Glen’s face superimposed on the cover. It now resides on my bookshelf alongside other books I cherish.

As someone who has a cabinet full of journals with significant gaps in their dates, I am in awe of how Vanessa managed to juggle her career as a professional nurse and her responsibilities as Glen’s caregiver and still have the energy to write.  I know how tired she must have been and can appreciate how difficult it was to maintain a journal when the plans and dreams she had hoped to chronicle vanished.  

As an author and cancer survivor, I understand what compelled her, and the resolve and commitment it took to see her memoirs published.  It is one thing to keep a journal, but it takes strength and courage to allow the world a glimpse inside your private pain, and her book deserves our reverence.

Glen in his prime, age 41 years
In Train Ride to Heaven Vanessa gives her readers a blunt account of what her self-described ordinary family goes through during her husband’s battle with ALS.  She does it with humor, humility, and grace. Despite everything Glen goes through, Vanessa makes sure his dignity remains intact, and permits her readers to see the larger-than-life man she loved; not an incapacitated invalid

She makes it obvious that she did not pen this tribute to Glen to solicit pity. Instead her prose beseeches all of us to recognize the solace, humor, and love that are found in the worst of times, and to be grateful for them.

Train Ride to Heaven is an inspiring read for any caregiver, and for families struggling with ALS, or any other catastrophe.  However, it is much more than a memoir about an ordinary family’s inspirational journey with a fatal disease; at its core this book is a love story.

April 2015
In the book's touching epilogue Vanessa addresses the poignant questions she asked herself when she realized she was falling in love again after Glen's death. Her answers- like her book- are wise and full of heart.

Despite the sorrow and inevitable outcome her memoir chronicles, readers will be unable to resist yearning for what Vanessa and Glen Maholovich had. They may have been ordinary people living a small town life, but theirs was an extraordinary love story and it is evident on every page of Train Ride to Heaven.

Glen Maholvich died at 4:22 PM November 22, 2011, but the legacy of his love lives on.

Authors Bios:

Vanessa Maholovich is a Registered Nurse. In 2015 she was chosen "Best of the Best in Nursing" by the residents of the Atmore, Alabama community where she worked and lived. Today she has remarried and resides in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with her husband Barry Carden.  She continues to work as an RN and is persuing becoming a Certified Caregiving Consultant.

Sherry Sapp is a freelancer who writes for newspapers and magazines; this was her first book. According to Vanessa, " I shared my story and writing with her, and she brought my words to life. I could not have done it without her!" Sherry Sapp resides in Pensacola, Florida.

Amelia Frahm helped pioneer cancer resources for children. She is the author of the award-winning children’s books,  Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy, and Nuclear Power: How a Nuclear Power Plant Really Works!