Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Resources for Bullying

Here are some very helpful websites for information on how to deal with bullying.

Do you know of others to share with us?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Do You Know If Your Child Is Being Bullied?

        Up to 160,000 students miss school every day to avoid being bullied. As many as 25% of students say they have been bullied in school. With such high numbers saying they have been bullied, how do you know if your child is one of them?

        It's not easy to know and it's not the first thing one usually thinks of when school isn't going well.

        Following are some signs that parents should look for that are possible indications of being bullied. While bullying isn't always the answer, it is always something that should be included in the possible reasons for these symptoms.

  • Has his behavior changed lately? Is he more sullen, withdrawn?
  • Are his grades going downhill?
  • Does he not want to go to school? Is he often sick or not feeling well on school days?
What you can do if you suspect your child is being bullied:

Let him know it's not his fault-it's the bully that has the problem.

Whether or not your child admits to being bullied, let him know that no one has the right to bully him. Encourage him to tell you and an adult at school if anyone bullies him.

If your child isn't sure, have him answer these three questions:
1. Did someone say or do something that made him feel bad or afraid?
2. Has it happened more than once?
3. Is that person bigger, older, or more powerful than your child?

If the answer to these questions is "yes" then he is being bullied.

Go on your local school board's website and learn what resources they have in place to deal with bully behavior and what their policies are. Work with school personnel to stop all forms of bullying.

What has been your experience with bullying behavior? Do you have any suggestions to add that might be helpful to others?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Homeless Statistics Aren't Just Numbers, They Have Faces

        The numbers of homeless people continues to increase every year. In the 2008-2009 school year the Hearth Project identified 2,038 homeless students in Polk County, FL. In the 2009-2010 school year the number increased to 2,289.  For the 2010-2011 school year it continued to increase to 2,453.

        We must never forget that these are not just numbers. Each of the 2,453 has a face. Most of the homeless are single moms with small children.

        My soon-to-be-published novel, Address Unknown, speaks to this issue and encourages discussion. Perhaps it will lead to more being done to assist those in this very difficult situation. That is my hope.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Road Kill Snow Skiing

        I've been snow skiing one time. "Road Kill." That's what they called me. 

        As I struggled to the beginners class over snow and ice, skis clamped firmly in place, I had two "aha" moments: 
          1) I would rather be walking barefoot across hot beach sand and 2) do I have an up-to-date last will and testament?

        We beginners stood in a line facing the instructor. He told how to bend our knees and lean this way in order to go that way. He very gracefully demonstrated. Then it was our turn.

        I bent my knees and leaned as instructed, but my skiis apparently weren't listening--they never went in the direction the graceful instructor said they would go.

        I did learn how to stop.  All you do is fall down. I practiced stopping more than I wanted to. I was good at it. 

        Often, when I stopped, the skiers behind me were surprised since we weren't practicing stopping at the time and, being beginners, they practiced stopping also--by running into me. Road kill.

        The class grand finale was to go on a ski lift and ski down the "easy" beginners slope. For those of you who have never been skiing before let me tell you a secret they don't tell you until you are in line for the ski lift-the lift doesn't stop for you to get on.

        When your turn comes you have to hurry to position yourself so the lift chair hits you in the buttocks and you fall into the seat. It sounds easy, but here's the tricky part-you're wearing skiis. When I hurry, I practice stopping. You're not supposed to stop when in line for the lift.

        Another secret they don't tell you until you are actually seated on the lift-it doesn't stop for you to get off.

        Directions for getting off the ski lift:
          1. Jump.
          2. Land upright on your skis.
          3. Very quickly ski out of the way so the person seated behind you,
              who will be jumping into the very same spot you jumped, does not
              land on your head. Falling is not recommended.

        I do not remember skiing down the easy beginners slope. This should not come as a surprise--people who go through a traumatic event often can't remember anything they did while going through said event.

        I wouldn't mind going to a ski resort again. But next time I'll watch the skiers from the lounge with a hot drink in my hand. And I won't have to worry about my last will and testament.



Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Writer's Life

        It's not easy being a writer. Oh sure, you say, writers just sit around all day drinking coffee and thinking of cool things to write. How hard is that?

        It's hard. Really hard. First of all, drinking all that coffee requires a lot of bathroom breaks. So I write half a sentence and then get up for a break. By the time I return, I've forgotten what I was going to write so I start over. That's why you'll see many writers only using very short sentences. Meanwhile this blank page is staring at me, taunting me to write something really cool.

        Pressure. There's lots of pressure in writing. And I don't mean just in the bladder. Think of the last time you read a book with  a really scary scene. Well, here I am, sipping on a latte trying to think of a scary scene to write. Not just the scene, but the right words to make you feel really scared.

        Finding the right words is a matter for our brains. But brains don't always cooperate. I know you've tried to think of something and couldn't: the name of a movie, the name of that guy you met ten minutes ago who's walking towards you right now and you need to introduce him to the person standing next to you, the names of your children; and your brain has locked it away so that you can barely see it, but not enough to remember it.

        What was that actor's name? I know it started with a "P." ...Peter?...No, not Peter...Phillip?...No, that's not it...Patrick?...Maybe it starts with a "R"...Yeah, I think so...Robert?...No...Say, Hon, what was the name of that actor we saw in the movie last night?

        "We didn't see a movie last night?"

        "What did we do last night?"

        "I can't remember either."

        "I think it started with 'B.'"

        Some brains are better at this than others. Some brains specialize. Names seems to be a favorite, but some lock away dates, or memories, or words. If you're a writer--it's words.

        What does your brain lock away? And how do you retrieve it? While you're trying to remember, I'll go get another cup of coffee.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Neighbor Riley Talks to Outer Space

At first glance, my friend Riley seems normal. He lives in a normal neighborhood. His wife and two children seem normal enough. But if you spend more than fifteen minutes with him, you would notice something wasn't quite right.

One day I asked to borrow his weedeater. He grimaced so strongly I reached for my cell phone to call 911. But after a pause, though his grimace never quite left, he said, "Look, my weedeater isn't really a weedeater."

"But I saw you using it to eat weeds last week."

"That was a cover."

"Cover for what?"

"Can I trust you?" His eyes darted to his garage and back at me.  

"I'm pretty sure I can handle a basic weedeater."

"That's what I'm telling you." He leaned closer to me and raised a finger to make his point. He whispered, "My weedeater is more than what it seems. Can I trust you to not say anything to anyone?"

"About your weedeater?"

"Listen, my weedeater is really an antenna so I can talk to the space station."

"An antenna?"

"Right. I hook it up to my tool box."

"You're kidding."

"No, really. I'm dead serious." He poked me in the gut with his finger.

"I think there are only Russians up there now," I said.

"Trotski bulloski monotrilutski."

"What's that?"


"That was Russian?"

"Don't tell anyone."

"Does this mean I can't use your weedeater?"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Some Research is Stinky

I strive for accuracy, even when writing fiction. Research is as essential as water is to mud.

Sometimes research doesn't work out.

I wrote a children's novel about a young boy's encounter with fairies. To make sure I got it right, I purchased a book online-My Life as a Fairy. The postage stamp size book was too small to read. I couldn't turn the tiny little pages with my mortal person fingers. 

I placed an ad in the local paper asking for anyone who had seen or talked with a fairy to come forward for an interview. I received three responses.

The first was a woman who wore a long dress and seemed to glide when she walked. She didn't make a sound walking across a wooden floor. I'm not sure her feet touched the ground. Maybe she wore roller skates. She has conversations with fairies in her fairy garden every night. She invited me to spend the night with her drinking the fairy juice she makes in her basement and talking to the fairies. I graciously declined.

The second interview was with a big man, probably three hundred pounds. His arms were hairy and hair stuck out the top of the undershirt he wore.  Colorful tattoes were plastered over his body. He had a soft, tiny angelic voice.

He claimed fairies had saved his life when he crashed his motorcycle into a tree. The little ones had come with their little wash clothes and bandages and magic medicines and had healed him. The medicine changed his voice into a fairy voice. With tears in his eyes, he said in his tiny angry voice that shortly afterwards he was asked to leave the Hellion Bikers Club.

The last interview was with a young woman who had been a fairy in a previous life. In fact, she was the queen fairy. I think this may have been true because she was bossy. She kept telling me where to sit which  annoyed the other patrons of the coffee shop. "Sit, over there, no..."    

My latest attempt at research came from my book Address Unknown. The protagonist in Address Unknown creates an experiment for a science fair that causes havoc due to its smell. I needed to know whether or not his experiment really would cause such a stench. So I duplicated it in my back yard.

I placed leftovers from meals in small plastic containers like those for individual servings of yogurt. Then I poured in milk to fill each one and sealed them. I trembled at the potential for stink inside each of these innocent looking vessels. Then I placed them in the sun to bake and rot and ferment.

Ten days later I peeled off the first lid. The stench hit me like a bolt of electricity. I dropped the container and took rapid steps backwards. My eyes burned and I held my breath. I tried breathing by sipping air in through little openings I made with my lips. 

With stinging eyes and scorched lungs, I trembled from excitement at opening the other five. I wrapped a wet towel around my face and held my breath. I reached for the second, keeping it at arms length. I ripped off the lid. The putrid smell penetrated the towel, my clothes, my pores. I fought the urge to run far, far away. I was elated.

I pulled off the third lid and thought surely I will die.

I continued taking little short whimpy breathes. Each breath was as painful as pulling a tooth. I forced myself to sip in the stinky air. Ouch...ouch...ouch

Quickly, without thinking, I yanked off the three remaining lids. I didn't know you could see smell. A yellow, ugly, wavy cloud rose and spread through the neighborhood. 

Dog lovers know that dogs love foul smells and will roll, squirming with delight, on a dead rotted fish if they should be so lucky to come upon one.

Every dog within a three block radius lifted his muzzle to the heavens and howled. It was reported later that all dogs in the smell zone flopped on his back and wriggled in ecstacy. 

I couldn't see out of my red swollon eyes and I had been weakened by the lack of life-sustaining air. I felt my way to the back door and quickly slipped into my house and into good air. 

A few minutes later a white van pulled up. Two men in astronaut suits and holding some kind of smell meter walked slowly to my back yard-the meter pointing their way. I watched them pick up each container with three foot tongs and place them in hi-tech impervious urns. They drove off with never a word to me. 

I was proud and filled with my own scientific prowess. I had triumphed.

Some day, I feel sure, the neighbors will speak to me again.    

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Loving Cats Too Much

I have a neighbor who loves cats. Too much. She brings strays home and turns them loose on the neighborhood. For some reason they gravitate to my yard. I don't know why. Hope it's not the fish pond.

I felt sorry for them once and put out a saucer of milk. It was soy milk...with vanilla and multi-vitamins added. Cats, especially hungry cats, shouldn't be particular. A white liquid with the word "milk" in its name in a saucer should be good enough. They never touched it.

My deck has become their Playboy Mansion. I can't tell if their night howling is from ecstasy or pain. Maybe it's just me--I never can tell. After the third litter had been born in my yard and cat urine overpowered the honeysuckle, I decided the time had come to close them down.

I have some control of my back yard because it has a fence around it and I have some experience in making animals do what I want. The fence was an attempt to keep two black labradors and one brown cocker spaniel from destroying the neighborhood. This attempt turned out to be a challenge of the human intellect versus animal drive and passion. Drive and passion won. I hoped this time would be different.

I knew their two favorite places to enter the yard were from under the fence. I carefully blocked both openings and, after several failed attempts was successful in closing off their entryways.

I came home one night and squealed to a stop in the driveway as a cat was having his way with a feline in the spot where I park. He was built like a boxcar and was not about to stop. He glared at the car daring it to come any closer. He won. I retreated to the house whispering mia culpas for the interruption.

Yesterday I noticed a hole had been ripped into the fence at a different place.

Human intellect versus animal passion--passion wins every time.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Six Universal Laws of Vacationing with Grandchildren

I recently spent a week with three grandchildren ages two, four and six. Some of what I observed happened so frequently and consistently, I believe they must demonstrate basic truths of spending time with small children. I share them with you in the hope that you will benefit from my experience.

UL #1: Do not plan on sleeping in. Young children wake up fully wound up and ready to go. They do not need an alarm clock, wake-up call, or reason to get up early. Good luck with finding the time to brush your teeth and using the bathroom. If you're looking for a place to rent to vacation with small grandchildren, your first question should be, "Do the bathrooms have locks?"

UL #2: You cannot, under any circumstances, buy enough food. So you went to the store and bought enough food for a small city. Tomorrow you will need something else--not just anything else--something of unnatural importance, something you cannot be without, like air. The second question you should ask, "Is there a large grocery store nearby that is well stocked?"

UL #3: There are never enough adults. We had three adults and three children. The adults were hopelessly outnumbered. For one-half of a day we had five adults--that was a little better. No matter how many adults, the following will still happen: the two year old will disappear, he will climb somewhere the adults consider dangerous, he will run naked. The older children will crave your attention at the same time, will crave something to eat, drink, do, or watch. There will be moments when none of the adults will know where they are or what they are doing.  

UL #4: Grandmothers are indispensable. Grandfathers are fairly useless unless given a specific task by the aformentioned grandmother. Suggestion--if you're a grandfather without a wife--borrow, rent, kidnap, somehow find one to take along. Out of respect to other grandfathers out there, this may be my own personal law. You might have that innate ability to know what needs to be done and how to do it. I am missing that gene.

UL #5: PBS Kids is the best baby sitter when you need a few minutes to prepare a meal or take a break. All of the PBS Kids shows have a calming effect and teach things like words and numbers. I suspect PBS Kids has some kind of tricky thingamabob that sends out hypnotic rays from your TV screen to hypnotize kids six and under. I don't care. The peace it brings is better than a glass of wine. Two glasses of wine.

UL #6: A vacation with grandchildren is never as bad as Rules 1-5 make it sound. We played together, the two year old fell asleep in my arms, I held the four year old in my lap as we talked, and had some enlightening conversations with the six year old. I will cherish that week for a long time. And now I am wiser for next year. Of course they will be a year older and I'm sure will have a few new things to teach me.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Developing Characters for Children's Literature

     Someone asked me recently how I develop characters in stories for and about children. That's a good question and it has caused me to look more closely at this process. Having only written two children's novels and a few short stories, I can't say that I have a long established system, but what I do has worked thus far.

     Basically, my stories begin with the germ of an idea or theme. Then I expand the idea by asking "what if" questions and/or brainstorming using  "clustering." 

     "What if" questions might go as follows: (let's say the germ of an idea is that a young girl's mother dies and she's left to live with her father) We can ask--what if her father marries again; what if she has two mean daughters of her own; what if they make her do all the drudgery work; what if a handsome prince throws a ball looking for his princess; what if this young girl has a fairy godmother; etc. You get the point.

"Clustering" means to brainstorm connecting words,and these can lead to more ideas. For example if we chose the word "magic." Associated words might be: disappear, change, magician, fairy godmother, wand, hat, rabbit, fairy, etc. Then go deeper by taking each word: fairy godmother--wand, help, kind, rescue, etc. This method can lead to new twists you hadn't thought of before.

As the story develops, I decide on the protagonist: boy or girl, age, family, education, etc. and then go deeper. There are many good lists that are helpful to ask about the protagonist (and the antagonist) that get to her personality and faults. A list I like is in the book  Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. He suggests questions such as:
  • What are her inner demons and how do they influence her actions and decisions?
  • What is her worldview?
  • What is her most secret yearning?
  • And many others.
My characters and stories usually develop together, although she is usually well thought out in the early stages.

Any writers have other thoughts on developing characters?


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Part of Life We Shall Not Know

If, on a starlit night,
with the moon brilliantly shimmering,
we stay inside and do not venture out,
the evening universe remains
a part of life we shall not know.
--Rev. Marni Harmony

If we don't venture out into life, we will miss something of great value. This is true whether it is a starlit night or a stormy one, all of life has something to offer and value.

I have a friend who loves questions. Questions push us to seek answers we might  not otherwise have searched for. Here are a few questions we might ask ourselves:
  • What am I missing in my life that I regret not having?
  • What am I missing that I want to pursue?
  • What would I have to do in order to pursue that missing element?
  • How would my life change if I took up the challenge to pursue it?
  • What is keeping me from the thrill of pursuit?
I hope you pursue your dreams and love the journey.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Art and Soul Festival

        If you'll be in Winter Haven, Florida on Saturday, April 16th be sure to come by the Art and Soul Festival located at 253 Avenue A, SW from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. There will be over 50 artists, live music, poetry readings and numerous talks and discussions.

        This Festival is being sponsored by the Drops of Jupiter Gallery and the Center for Personal Growth. 

        I will be speaking about two of my books: Address Unknown and Unlikely Heroes. Guaranteed to be lots of fun and interesting artsy things going on. I tend to want to have conversations rather than just talk myself. This gives the participants the opportunity to get what they want from the program and, hopefully, makes it more interesting for them.

I hope to see you there.   

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Helping the Bully

     We usually think of the bully as someone who should be punished for his bullying behavior, we don't have any desire to help him. When the bully is a child, however, without help to change that behavior, the bully has a good chance to grow into a criminal lifestyle. One study showed that 60% of boys who were bullies in middle school had at least one criminal conviction by age 24. Not good.

     I am aware of one elementary school counselor taking a child who had made remarks about killing another person and working with him to help develop compassion and understanding for that person. It is too early to know how that child will turn out, but I would bet money that he now has a better chance of escaping an antisocial lifestyle.

     Here are some ways to help the bully:
  • Don't minimize the problem, treat it seriously.
  • Don't believe everything your child tells you--check out the facts.
  • Try to find out why your child is exhibiting bullying behavior, get professional help if necessary.
  • Let your child know that bullying behavior is not tolerated.
  • Don't model bullying behavior, such as threats, slaps, etc.
This is the last of my series on bullying behavior. It has become a special interest of mine since a bully became a  part of my novel Address Unknown.

Have you had an experience with bullying? I would be interested in hearing about it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Parents Should Be Aware of the Many Types of Bullying

I was happy to learn this past week that the White House is holding a conference on bullying. Perhaps this will give it the national attention it deserves. So often we pay attention to bullying when a tragedy has occured, too late to help the victims. We should be mindful of bullying at all times.

In keeping with this, following are the types of bullying:

1. Physical Aggression: Hitting, pushing, kicking, spitting, stalking.

2. Verbal Aggression: Name calling, teasing, insulting remarks, threatening, disrespecting a persons race, disability, appearance, religion, sexual orientation, or anything different about the person.

3. Emotional Aggression: Spreading rumors, isolating a person from a peer group.

4. Sexual Aggression: Unwanted sexual advances or actions intended to make the person uncomfortable, embarrassed, or humiliated, and might include obscenities or gestures, exposure or physical contact.

5. Cyber Bullying: Using the internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phone to communicate words, images, or language to willfully harm a person as described above.

Any thoughts about bullying? I would love to hear from you.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What is Bullying?

        Exactly what is bullying? It's good to have an idea what constitutes bullying behavior so one can recognize it when it happens. We shouldn't dismiss this behavior as "just kid stuff" when it is in reality harmful. 

        A good place to find a definition is from the school system as they deal with this behavior on a daily basis. The Polk County School System in Florida defines bullying behavior as needing to meet three criteria: 

        1. A behavior must be unwanted, offensive, threatening, insulting,
            humiliating, or interferes with the individual’s school performance
            which results in the victim feeling stressed, injured, or threatened.  
       2. There must be an imbalance of power between the victim and the
       3. The behavior must be repeated.

        This seems to me to be a comprehensive and helpful definition.

        In future blogs I'll look at other facets of bullying and what we can do about it.

Meanwhile, if you have any thoughts or experiences with bullying, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Write with Passion

     I returned last week from the annual Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Miami. It was a great conference with plenty of agents,editors, and successful writers to meet and learn from. 

     One of the best sessions was taught by Sarah Davies, an agent with the Greenhouse Literary Agency. She emphasized writing stories that take your breath away, that make the reader contemplate the human condition and to think--What if...?

     She absolutely sold me. My goal is to write with passion and to write stories that make one pause, that make one see in a new way, that make one feel a connection to the characters. Not an easy task, and I know it won't be easy for me; but I want to do this. So there it is--my goal for this year. 

     Have you read any stories lately that took your breath away? I would love to hear about them.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Communication Without Evaluation

     Nonviolent communication requires that we learn to separate our observations from evaluations. While this may seem easy, it is not. For most of us, when we observe others and their behavior, we too frequently add our evaluation to the observation.
     For example, suppose while walking along a city street I see a man sitting on the sidewalk. His clothes are disheveled and dirty, his hair a mess, and he sports several days growth of beard. I most likely would think that he is homeless and has a drug and/or alcohol problem. I have added my evaluation of him to my observation.

     Or, my teenage child has not cleaned her room in months. In trying to get her to clean the room, I might tell her, among other things, "You are lazy."

     Here, again, I have added my evaluation to my observation. The problem is that all she is going to hear from me is the criticism-"you are lazy." This will lead to hurt feelings and, possibly, an argument. If I had just kept to an observation without the evaluation by saying, "You have not cleaned your room in months" we would have a better chance of discussing the situation and working out a solution. 

     Also, claiming she is lazy does not take into account other areas where she shows effort, perhaps school or sports.

     Other examples of how to omit the evaluation:
--With evaluation: Tom is a poor baseball player.
   Without evaluation: Tom hasn't had a hit in the last five games.

--With evaluation: You are always too busy for me.
  Without evaluation: The last three times I have asked to speak with  you, you said you didn't have time. 

--With evaluation: _____ (name your group of people) are lazy.
   Without: The _______ family at 213 Main Street haven't cut their grass in two months.

To avoid evaluations in conversation be specific as to the behavior and the situation. By avoiding evaluation we learn to speak more accurately and with less criticism, thereby increasing the likelyhood that the other person will hear us and not respond angrily to our being critical.

What do you think?  Using evaluation in our conversation seems to be ingrained in our culture. For me, it is difficult to stop evaluating. Difficult, but something worth doing.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Communication That Blocks Compassion and Alienates People

     "She is soooo lazy."

     "He is the most selfish person I know."

     Language such as this "traps us in  a world of ideas about rightness and wrongness-a world of judgements." So says Marshall Rosenberg in his works on nonviolent communication. I agree. When we judge others, we cut ourselves off from a compassionate relationship with that person.
     We also become preoccupied with who's right or wrong, good or bad, smart or ignorant. Not a helpful way to look at others. I know. I have been plenty judgemental in my life. Trying to change to a more compassionate outlook is not easy because we are taught to think and talk in a judgemental manner early in life.  

     We should not confuse value judgements with moralistic judgements. Value judgements are those qualities we hold dear in our lives; we make moralistic judgements of those people who fail to live up to our values.

     Other forms of communication that blocks compassion include: comparing others or ourselves; denial of responsibility-we are each responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings; making demands of others; and the concept that certain actions deserve rewards and others deserve punishment. Concerning this last concept-it is in our society's interest that people change not to avoid punishment,but because they see the change as benefiting themselves.
     Rather than being judgemental, Dr. Rosenberg believes that we would be better served if we focused on what our needs are and what others needs are and whether or not those needs are being met. When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we open ourselves up to compassionate relationships with others.

     How can we begin to communicate and think in a more compassionate manner? That is the topic of the next blog.

     Do you see yourself as being judgemental? Tell me about it. I would love to hear from you.