An Oasis for Guatemalan Girls

An Oasis for Guatemalan Girls

Without Oasis, a ministry of Kids Alive International, a 100-year-old charity that rescues at-risk children, these girls would likely remain broken, battered, and discarded in the barren desert of a government shelter that does not have the means to provide specialized care. But in Oasis, girls who are victims of child pornography, sex rings, trafficking, incest, rape, and other sexual crimes, some among the 4,700 Guatemalan girls between the ages of 10-14 who are impregnated by rape each year, they not only get a warm compassionate home, they get a bit of justice, too.

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Conversations from the Park

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Other Random Mom: points at my preschooler. He's so cute.

Me: Thanks. He's a tyrant. He's lucky he's cute.

ORM: Yeah, mine too. I'm just finally getting him to sleep through the night, can you believe it. He's almost five.

Me: That sounds horrible.

ORM: It is. It's horrible. He's actually horrible.

Me: Oh, mine's horrible, too. He's four, too, so…

ORM: Pretty sure mine will still be horrible when he's five. And probably beyond that. Probably til he's 18.

Me: 28

ORM: Yeah. Probably his whole life judging by his commitment to assholery now.

Me: He does seem fully committed.

ORM: Oh. Sorry about that. He spits. And bites. He's pretty much feral. I can't take him anywhere.

Me: Mine hasn't really bit people yet, but there's still time.

ORM: There's totally time.

Me: Scads of it. Nothing but time around here.

ORM: Except when there's no time, you know? Like ever. No time to get my work done, do the laundry…

Me: Shave your legs…

ORM: Change your underwear…

Me: Well, there are limits.

ORM: Not really. I mean, I guess.

Me: pulls my kid off the top of the monkey bars. So, you work? What do you do?

ORM: I'm a sales rep. I can choose my hours, so I try to work when he naps.

We both laugh until we cry.

ORM: You?

Me: I'm a writer. I write books for teenagers. And business stuff.

ORM: Cool. Hey. Have you seen anything good on Netflix lately? I'm looking for something new to watch.

Me: Stares blankly.

ORM: You're not on Netflix.

Me: Oh no. I mean, I am. I just cannot remember anything I've watched on Netflix in the last six months.

ORM: Haha! Mom brain.

Me: It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

ORM: I know. I used to know things.

Me: Important things.

ORM: Yeah. Things outside of the color of my kid's last poop.

Me: What were those things we used to know?

ORM: Things like places to shop where you cannot also buy food.

Me: I haven't been to the mall in seven years. If I can't buy it in Target…

ORM: …it ain't worth buying.

Me: The outright stress of taking three kids to the mall. I mean. Come ON.

ORM: Yeah. Not gonna happen. Plus, there's the time thing.

Me: Back to that.

ORM: Yeah, I guess I circle around a bit.

Me: I'm circling the drain.

ORM: Aren't we all.

We both push our kids on the swings.

Me: Hey, wanna grab lunch some time? You know, like some time after we drop off the kids? Before the craziness of the workday sets in?

ORM: Sure. Let me just find a spare hour in the day to do that.

We look at each other. Burst into hysterics.

Running Out the Crazy

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Running

Out the Crazy

I never knew stress had such physical impact until I ran five miles on the treadmill one average Wednesday morning in February.

And I didn't run.

At all.

In fact, the closest I'd come to running the ten years prior had been chasing my naked, screaming toddler as he sprinted down the sidewalk with a cookie and an agenda.

I'd never been able to run a mile, let alone five. In elementary school, I used to beat everyone in the 100-yard dash on Field Day, but I lagged somewhere around 23rd place in the quarter-mile. As a high schooler, I chased boys and played sports that didn't involve running. In college, I ran up to 7-11 for Slurpees, to the store for cheap wine, and one month, I ran around behind my boyfriend's back and got some nasty phone calls.

Never, never did I run run.

I envied the runners. Their commitment. Their quads. Their lung capacity.

I never assumed I'd be one of them one day.

Until that morning. And boy, was it a morning. I had two kids at the time: Brady who was two, and Kaden who was seven months. They decided to give me more stress on that preschool day than I knew what to do with: One poop explosion, one adamant, earsplitting refusal to go on the potty, one hidden set of car keys, two scorned breakfasts, three shirts on and off, and four trips back into the house for items I'd forgotten.

Once I'd wrestled everyone into the car, twenty-five minutes late, Kaden screamed all the way to school, and Brady alternately commanded him to be quiet, and commanded me to make him stop crying.

 I didn't cry myself until Brady hit me in the head with his sippy cup.

I could feel the stress in my shoulders and neck as I dropped the two-year-old off at preschool and lugged the baby back to the car so I could go to the gym for 45 minutes of peace and quiet. I was irritated. I was beyond frazzled. This frenetic morning was the icing on the cake to a stressful month I'd just been through.

Four weeks prior, my husband had started a brand-new job. With his new responsibilities came brand-new hours. As a work-from-home mom, I was taking care of the kids all day, and for the first time, all evening, too. Throughout the month, I was also trying to meet deadlines in my own job and rent out vacation condos we'd purchased two years before. In addition, my baby was teething (read "not sleeping") and my toddler was acting out because of my husband's glaring absence. Couple all that with the everyday catastrophes two baby boys bring about and I was, needless to say, beyond stressed.

In four weeks, I'd gone from a semi-normal woman with a tendency to yell to a crazed maniac who felt like chucking both kids into the nearest volcano, catching a flight to Munich and drowning my sorrows in a stein full of pilsner.

Since that wasn't an option, (there never seemed to be any volcanoes in my neighborhood), and I knew for sure I didn't want to take any depression or anxiety medicine (although a psychiatrist was my next phone call), I went to the gym that morning. And I ran.

At first, I just wanted to encapsulate myself in the anonymity of earbuds and listen to any music Barney wasn't singing. Then, it started to feel pretty good, so I threw my towel over the mile-tracker and kept running. And a guy jumped on the treadmill next to me and started to jog. And since I'm competitive, I told myself to keep going until that guy stopped going.

 And he kept running.

So I did, too.

I ran and I ran and I ran and when he wiped his brow and slowed down, I whipped the towel off the machine to check my progress and discovered to my astonishment that I'd been running for 54 minutes. Five miles.

The outright shock made me miss a step and nearly catapult off the treadmill, but I righted myself, punched the rate down to a walk, and checked the mile-tracker again.

Yep. Five.

To my amazement, I felt great. My lungs weren't burning. My muscles felt loose. My head was clear. After cooling down, hopping off and stretching out, I checked my pulse and discovered that in less than six minutes it had slowed back down to my normal resting rate.

Unbelievable.

I'd apparently had so much stress in my body that it had allowed me—the woman with zero capacity to run any distance at all—to run five miles like it was my job.

So, I did it the next time I went to the gym. And the next. And within two weeks, five miles didn't seem like any kind of a feat at all. I felt like if given an unlimited amount of time, I could run an unlimited amount of miles.

So I ran everywhere. I ran at home, I ran at the gym, I ran on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings. I ran and I ran and I ran, and slowly, the stress that had overtaken my life melted into something a little less ugly.

I no longer shrieked at the top of my lungs when my toddler smashed Play-doh into the carpet. I no longer wanted to heave my Pfaltzgraff to the floor every time I missed a deadline. I no longer wanted to karate-chop other women who looked put-together, poised and patient.

I no longer wanted to cry every second of every minute of every day.

The running helped me cope with those tiny stressors throughout the day that had added up to STRESS. It fueled me with power, adrenaline and just a little bit of a buzz.

On that normal Wednesday in February all those years ago, I was running away from the stress of a life with two little boys. Today, I run to keep my life filled with happiness, peace, and just a wee bit more sanity now that two boys have turned into three, and somehow, life hasn't gotten any less chaotic.

To date, I haven't looked back.

An Afternoon With the Divine Keys

Divine Keys

This past Saturday, I was invited by a couple of my friends to a ladies luncheon at Brio Tuscan Grille, which is ridiculously good if you haven't had it. The creme brulee alone is enough to send your eyes rolling into the back of your head in pure, unadulterated bliss. 

I, of course, decided to go. I got to buy a new dress (burgundy was the theme), and got an afternoon away from the kids to spend with women who are decidedly some of my favorite people on the planet. Sylvia and Dawn, you know who you are. 

I had no idea what "The Divine Keys" were, but I expected heavenly food, great conversation, and a good cause; we'd all lugged in canned goods to support a food bank, after all. But I was unprepared for the absolute delight of a lunch spent in the company of women who believe in what they are doing. 

The Divine Keys, "is a concept, not a social group," says Celeste Salgado, the woman behind the annual luncheon. She started the event seven years ago, so that women could get together to share aspects of their lives to help each other grow, nourish each others' spirits, and uplift one another with kindness, praise, and heartfelt warmth.

Outside of this past Saturday, I'm not sure I've ever been at a lunch that does exactly that. 

A trio of singers started the lunch with gospel songs that had nearly everyone up on her feet. When we sat back down and dove into our meals, a presenter, a high-powered sales rep, spoke eloquently about weaving her marriage back together after it had come unraveled. Another presenter, a woman in the C-suite at a banking institution in Tampa, lifted the entire room in praise as she told the story of waiting on God's timing for everything in her life from her studies at Brown University to her bold career moves to her recent marriage. 

I sat in awe at the power of these women's words as they spoke with such vulnerability and passion, and was humbled by the way each of them opened herself up to the rest of us without fear. 

At the end, when the emcee asked each of us to peer into our little golden gift bags to reveal which "key" we were to focus on for the upcoming year, we uncovered things like "Health" (which was mine), "Dreams," and "Break-throughs."  These little challenges were the perfect way to end the lunch, and personally, I was glad I pulled the health key, especially considering the way I'd devoured most of that creme brulee. 

To date, the Divine Keys has blossomed, tendrils spinning off from the main vine with offshoot clubs for runners, book divas, marriage groups, and charities. In fact, while we were at the lunch, those responsible for charity asked for donations to help support two teenage girls who'd aged out of foster care and were living alone.

To say I was blessed by this luncheon would be an understatement. I felt encouraged, warmly welcomed, and inspired to get out there and do something good for someone else in this world. 

And if that isn't divine, I don't know what is. 

 

Bounce Back

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I love rap music.

The rhythm.

The engagement of the senses.

The raw emotion—fear, anger, rage, triumph, sadness, bravado.

I think this love is a natural fit for me as a writer. Rap artists can make their words pop like bullets from a gun (Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Bone Thugs N Harmony) or let them slide over you like a caress (Nas, Rakim). Many rap artists are incredibly clever with their turn of phrase—Biggie, Tupac, Jay Z—as they weave their stories of grief, rage and triumph with puns, hyperbole, synecdoche, and irony.

Others are incredible crafters of language. Eminem, in particular, masters alliteration, onomatopoeia, and assonance so well, his songs are pure poetry that hum and snap to the bassline.

I know many people disagree with the level of violence, sexuality, profanity, and misogyny in rap lyrics, and there are some beats I won't listen to because the words hit me in all the wrong places. But there are some I go to again and again when I'm driving alone, or running hard and need to feel something through the words and the downbeat.

One of those is Big Sean's "Bounce Back." You can listen to the clean version in the video below. This song is more than just the sounds of the words or the rhythm for me (although I can't help myself but dance when this comes up next on my playlist). It's the message behind the words.  "Last night I took a L, but tonight I bounce back."

He took a loss. But he bounced back from the loss to stand triumphant. And he did it with hard work and determination:

"Yeah, I call shots while you call off

Never takin' summer or fall off

When you stay that committed to it, you just fall down and never fall off."

In my current line of work—writing—there's no better message for me. Because I experience failure all the time. I submit essays that aren't picked up. Someone reads something I've written and sends me an email explaining the ways I've gotten it all wrong, and after I contemplate, I realize maybe the person is right.

But, like Big Sean, I take the L, and I bounce back with a little bit more perspective. I work hard at correcting my many and varied mistakes, and get back at it.

Listen to the song below and pay attention to the message. Then, just try to refrain yourself from singing "I WOKE UP IN BEAST MODE" at the top of your lungs after you get a little inspired.

It's impossible. ;-)

Spring Rain

Spring Rain

The spring morning smelled of dank earth. Dense clouds, thick and rolling, hung heavy on the horizon. A few leftover drops from last night’s shower ran in rivulets down the drain where she could hear the water surging beneath the city.   

She couldn’t cry anymore.

Her throat burned like tears, but the rain that fell from bloated clouds could not fall from empty eyes. Her cheek still ached from his back-handed blow. She traced shaky fingers across the swell. At least her injury came from his open hand and not his fist this time, or a belt like last Memorial Day when Patty from down the road found her sprawled on the tile, beaten bloody.

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How Sexy is My Vulnerability?

A month ago, my 10-year-old son, Brady, hovered in a cannonball over the crystalline blue of our sparkling pool. I shielded my eyes from the sun, pressed play on my phone, and he splashed into the water and back out half a dozen times. Pressed together around the screen, my three boys laughed at the Instagram boomerang, and I shooed them back into the pool with promises to record some more later.

"Mom!" my 8-year-old, Kaden, called as eased himself from the ledge into the deep end. "Why don't you get in?"

I looked up from my phone. "Not today, bud."

"Aww." His mouth turned down as he bobbed in the water, but within a few seconds, he forgot me and started a game with Brennan, my 4-year-old.

"She never gets in." Brady met my eyes, then dove under when I started to protest.

My chest squeezed at his words, but I made excuses to the woman in my head who typically disapproves of the decisions I make.

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My Son Should Be Arrested

My Son Should Be Arrested

911 Operator: "911. What is your emergency?"

Me: Hyperventilating. "Yes, hello. I need you to send an officer to my house. Right now."

911 Operator: "Calm down, ma'am. What is the situation? Are you safe?"

Me: "Yes, I'm safe, but this is a very dire, very urgent problem. I'll need you to send someone immediately."

911 Operator: "Okay, ma'am. I'm dispatching someone to your property as we speak. What is the nature of your emergency?"

Me: "Yes, it's nature."

911 Operator: Pauses. "No, I mean, what is the problem?"

Me: In a whisper. "It's my son."

911 Operator: "Speak up, ma'am. I cannot hear you. What is the problem?"

Me: Shouting in despair. "It's my SON!"

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Nailing An Elementary Essay: Show That Paper Who's "BOSS"

Nailing An Elementary Essay: Show That Paper Who's "BOSS"

Kids groan when they hear that they're being assigned an essay test. They stress about sentences. They agonize about organizing. Essays can certainly cramp a kid's style.

They don't need to.

You can help your child prepare to score as high as she can during an essay exam with a few simple tricks. But first, you need to know what's expected of her.

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4 Reasons to Sign Up for My Newsletter

I get it. I do. Signing up for someone's newsletter means just one more thing to read in your inbox. But...listen. There are some pretty cool reasons to just go ahead and sign up for *mine*. Check 'em out. 

  1. Infrequency. Trust me, ain't nobody got time to send out weekly newsletters around here. You'll get one per month, or maybe another if there is MAJORLY IMPORTANT, all-caps news to share. That's it. 
  2. Sneak Peeks. A ton of you have been asking about my young adult novel, Kammani, the Healer. But guess what? Newsletter signer-uppers will get to read snapshots of the work in progress when no one else does. 
  3. Goodies. Giveaways! Once in a while, I'll be hosting giveaways from some of my favorite authors. Fantastic books, downloads, and even some coveted reader loot. No sign-up? No loot. 
  4. Your Happiness. Research published in the Journal of Social Psychology says that when you do a good deed for someone else (signing up for my newsletter), you experience greater life satisfaction. So really, it's for you, not me. Not me at all. ;-)

Convinced? Fabulous? Sign up here, and let the sneak peeks begin. I can't WAIT to show you what's up my main character Kammani's sleeve.