Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Halloween King & A Few Halloween Fun Facts

Life is in constant motion. Sometimes it pushes us forward, and we're filled with encouragement. Other times it assaults us, forcing us backwards and stripping us of our confidence. Either way, there is growth to be had. 

One lesson I've learned over and over again through both the above types of life elements is that humor and letting go can be therapeutic. Here's some Halloween therapy to lighten your day and feed you a bit of useless knowledge - you know, in case you end up on Family Feud or something.

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Did you know that the turnip can claim victory as the first official Jack-O-Lantern?
     - Yup. Weird, and I bet it stunk, too.

In the olden days (apply phrase to self as it applies), owls were thought to be witches. Guess what it meant when they hooted
     - Someone was going to die. Mmwwhaaaa...

Any idea what Souling means? 
     - Poor people would visit homes and instead of receiving treats they offered prayers for the household's dead in exchange for a soul cake.

Yeah. So what's a soul cake?
     - Soul cakes are small round cakes that kind of     look like biscuits. 

What's the deal with all the orange and black for the Halloween season? 
     - Orange was always thought to represent the harvest during the Fall season, where the gruesome side to the holiday is felt through the color black representing death. 

Other titles for Halloween have been...?
     - Witches Night, All Hallows Eve, Samhain Eve, Summer's End, All Saints Eve, Snap Apple Night, to name a few.

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Have you ever heard of Samhain Eve? (I've heard of Samhain, but not with the eve.) Want to know why the eve is added here? 
     - Samhain is the Irish word for November, so technically adding Eve makes the phrase say October 31st. 

And why Snap Apple Night? Kind of a weird way to refer to Halloween, right? 
     - Snap Apple Night is the title of a painting (1833) by Daniel Maclise depicting a Halloween party. No, really. It is. Google it. 

Now, for my personal fun fact....

We live in a fairly large neighborhood of cul-du-secs and horseshoe streets. It would be safe to say that this area is one of the busiest on Halloween night. Families come by the van-full and park their vehicles along the streets. Kids pile out and are allowed to roam freely, usually in groups or bunches. Most adults walk the streets, too, carrying flashlights. And yes, we as the adults who resided in the neighborhood would have fun too.

When my four children where younger, they'd come home at the night's end with enough candy to literally fill a kitchen garbage bag if not half another one, too. It was crazy. Of course, my mother's radar would go off, thinking their teeth would be rotten within a few weeks if I let them eat all that. 

This is where the Halloween King came into existence, at least in our home anyway. I'd collect all my kids' candy, allowing them each to choose a few favorite pieces to set aside. They'd stack their individual stashes of Halloween pride near the fireplace and head off to bed. Once they were asleep, I'd collect all the candy and replace it with a wrapped present for each child. And just like Christmas morning, the kids would rush downstairs to see what special new gadget, toy, book, or whatever they'd received. Not once did they rush downstairs in the morning and complain about having to give up their candy. 

But the REAL winner was my husband. He got to take all the candy to work with him and become the hero to all his employees - The REAL Halloween King. 

It worked for our family. Maybe it could work for yours. AND btw - this is one of the picture books I'm writing. 

Do you have any Halloween traditions in your family?
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Teenage Depression ~ Sometimes You Just Can't Smile & Where's Lenny Lee?

***I have two posts for today, so if you're here to celebrate a fantastic teen's birthday feel free to skip to the latter part of this post. If you're Lenny, QUICK! Scroll to the bottom.

List of Participants
I'm please to be part of this ingenious blogfest hosted by Stephen Tremp, Michael Di Gesu, Diane Wolfe, and Alex Cavanaugh. 

It's meant to bring awareness of disease prevention and early detection regarding medical conditions that may be averted or treated if caught in the early stages. Our desire is to motivate people to go in for early screening, and if a condition is caught early and treated, then our world just became a little better place to live. 

Here's my contribution.


Most everyone knows or has heard the name Robin Williams. He's been in countless films and comedy shows, igniting smiles and lightening hearts in millions over his professional career. He started making me laugh when I was in elementary school, while watching him during his stint as Mork for Ork on the television show Mork & Mindy. His sudden passing stunned many. But the hand he had in his own death was the real shocker. Bewilderment and sadness that a man with the capacity to give such joy to others yet somehow could not feel it himself spread rapidly. It also placed a spotlight on the mental disorder of Depression, how well some people can wear a fake outer skin, and how it affects loved ones of the sufferer.  

All of us can have a sense of being depressed ~ sadness, gloom, dejection. We all have crappy days. Our bodies are chemically engineered with sparks of electricity firing at all angles throughout every day. We are emotional beings, which plays a part in our genetic make up. Events and circumstances can flair our emotions and affect our chemistry. It happens to all of us. But it eventually wears off, after we've had time to reflect or maybe spend time with a friend. Clinical Depression is an entirely different animal. Sufferers can not just make themselves happy or change their outlook. It can be an emotional up and down daily battle. Tell her to just smile, as I've been told, will not work for them. 
 
By collective definition, Clinical Depression: a depression so severe as to be considered abnormal, either because of no obvious environmental causes, or because there action to unfortunate life circumstances is more intense or prolonged than would generally be expected. 
NOTE: I by no means am a physician or councilor, or an expert on depression. However, I've had personal experience dealing with the disorder, suffering from Post-Partem after my third baby (take that Tom Cruise) and taking care of a clinically diagnosed family member for years.
Saying that, my focus here is on our youth, particularly teenagers. I write for children and love seeing the world through their eyes. But their world is not always rose petals and lollipops. Many kids have real life issue to handle. My current young adult project ~ a teenage girl who cares for a severely depressed parent, what she has to sacrifice, what that does to her, and how she deals with it all ~ has lent me lots of research into depression and teenage depression. 

The teenage years are by far the most volatile emotionally. Everything is a tragedy, a calamity. In their minds, no one understand what they're going through. We all remember feeling like that at some teenage point.

These years are the inner battle of adolescent Meism slowly losing ground to the revelation that the world does not revolve around them. Of course, there are loads of variables attached here. Everyone is an individual, different situations, circumstances, environments, etc... Each handles those uniquely. 

Feeling down or 'bad' is real to any of us, but especially during the middle grade and high school years of self discovery. Where do I belong? Who am I? Who do I want to become? In today's world, there's a lot of stress on these kids to answer those questions.  

Yes, there is a difference between feeling down and feeling as though one has been sucked into a black hole. But do not take any sense of depression lightly. You and I do not know the true workings of another's inner mind and heart. Pay attention. A life could be at stake.

Here are a few of the more common warning signs that might give you pause to a teenager suffering from a form of depression:
  • Sleeping excessively
  • Sudden disinterest in food or compulsive overeating leading to weight loss or gain
  • Memory loss
  • Unusual irritability
  • Irrational and/or rebellious behavior - skipping classes, driving recklessly, forgetting regular obligations like babysitting or work 
  • A sense of hopelessness
  • Outwardly feeling sorry for self
  • School work suffering; drop of letter grades
  • Apathetic attitude toward what was normally important to them: grades, athletics, music, etc...
  • Begin dabbling in alcohol and/or drugs
  • Isolate self
  • Disinterest in friends
  • Talk of death/dying
  • Headaches, fatigue, other aches and pains.
  • Overdoing actions or obnoxious in public
  • A heredity edge - (a symptom you might not be aware of: family history of depression)
Here are sites, organizations, articles, and books with more information on teenage depression, how to help, and how to manage it. 

Beyond the Blues by Lisa M. Schab
Anxiety Workbook for Teens by Lisa M. Schab
Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety by Christopher Willard

Thank you for reading, and please take this post to heart. Depression can happen to anyone, even those least likely to fall victim. Don't be afraid to ask questions, be attentive. You're not nosy. You care. <3


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I first met Lenny Lee through the blogosphere, while reading a post written by the fabulous Candace G. Her admiration for this young eleven-year-old kid struck a cord inside my heart. I then followed Lenny's trail to my amazing writer pal Sharon Mayhew and discovered Lenny's courageous journey and battle with cancer. 
Most of you will remember Lenny for his blog Lenny's World and from his imfamous sunshine logo. 
Dear Lenny,

You are one of my heroes. Your resilience amazes me. The way you see the world through hope-filled eyes and recognize the glass as half-full comforts me. There really is a better tomorrow. Thank you for being a light in my life and in the lives of your blogging buddies. 
We HEART U!
Happy 15th Birthday!!!
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For Cassidy

Life is fragile. 

A newborn baby's innocence. The trickling of clean water in a stream. Woodland animals caring for their young. We all know this, and yet we live our days filled to the brim with no time to step back and contemplate that truth. That beauty. We all do it. It's life. It's the world we live in. Or is it? 

For one of my close neighboring towns that question has come full circle. It has reached its tentacles, crossing my community's borders as well. This article is one I wish I didn't need to write.

On Saturday evening, people gathered at a farm about an hour from my home to enjoy pumpkins, corn mazes, and haunted hayrides. The farm is well known for ringing in the Halloween season with flair, so it attracts many and a lot of those are teenagers. It's a tradition unique to the fall season. No one would ever equate such innocent family fun with tragedy. But that's what happened. An amazing girl lost her life, when the Jeep hauling the trailer for the haunted hayride lost control and crashed. Her boyfriend was severely injured also, and many others suffered injuries as well.

Cassidy (in colorful headband) with
her CMU (Central Maine United)
premier soccer team.
Cassidy is a teammate on my daughter's premier soccer team. (I simply can't write was, because she's still here through words like this and the hearts of so many.) Along with other girls from surrounding towns, they've played soccer together for years, sharing victories and defeats and the all-important sleepovers. We consider her family our friends, spending weekend tournaments with the team or gatherings at their home. Her smile and soft wit will be missed beyond the words I could ever write here. A bright soul taken before her time. At the top of her high school class, she had more potential than most. Her community and neighboring communities are devastated. 

Her life touched many, from her high school soccer team, the premier soccer team, elementary school classmates at a Catholic school, older classmates, friends, and her beloved family. For the most part, when someone passes people share positives from their life. Sometimes you wonder if the person was really that good. In Cassidy's case, it is all true. Her infectious smile and laugh lit up a room and made you feel better. The gentleness in her face welcomed you. She possessed a humbleness that only comes from Grace beyond any of us, and she shared it willingly. Knowing her affirms there is goodness in this world.  

She gained that goodness from an incredible mother, father, and younger brother. They are some of the most genuine people I have ever known. Her mother has taken my family photos for years, always taking such care over my four children. As I write this all I can think is This can't be happening. 

It was early Sunday morning when I received the text of the accident. Initially, shock was felt - a dull, numb sensation of disbelief. But as that wears off and reality sets in, the gravity of loss plummets to a full arsenal of emotions. Making sense of this is the first reaction. It's what we do in our human skin. But pursuing that is a losing battle. As a close friend shared with my daughter, "This will never get better. It will only get different." 

People are coming together through candlelight vigils and posting the above imagine in support and honor of Cass. Some are organizing fundraisers to aid her family with expenses, but also for the family of her boyfriend, who is in a Boston hospital with sever injuries. Cassidy's teammates from all her teams are honoring her from wearing blue ribbons and their jerseys to painting blue hearts with her number on their faces. Our boy's soccer team wrapped a single stripe of blue tape on their arms to honor her during yesterday's game. This will be a long road of grief and questioning for many. I ask for your positive thoughts and prayers for the family. 

We attended a vigil for her last night outside her Catholic elementary school. As tough as it was it was as beautiful. The tears, the laughs, the memories, and the heartfelt longing for her needed to be shared. Former teachers, friends, teammates, and even people who didn't know her attended. A gentlemen approached my husband and asked if we knew her. He revealed that he did not know her or the family, but just had to attend in support. His heart was genuine and heavy. 

After, Cassidy's CMU soccer team gathered at a coach's house. They talked, tried to eat a little ice cream, and cried. Eventually, laughter sprung up as they embraced cherished memories they'd shared with Cass. They questioned why. Before they left, the coach had them sign a special table. The last signature was for Cassidy ~ a big heart with her CMU #4 filling it up.

The outpouring of compassion testifies of Cassidy's wholesome influence in this world, and that we have the same responsibility to affect others in affirming ways. The manner in which she lived each day has made a difference. Her inspiration will inspire positive effects in many. Her life threaded numerous lives, and last night she brought us together. Though she is not physically here any longer to spread her light, others have vowed to do that for her. You and I need to do the same.

There's nothing I can do for her parents but offer a shoulder to help shelf their grief. It's not enough, but it's all I have. It's all any of us has at a time like this. But we can also take a moment to respect life in its frailness, cherish what we still have, and never lose sight of a beautiful life that added such hope to the world ~ Cassidy's legacy. 
 
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