6 Dates to Disaster

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6 Dates to Disaster by Cynthia T Toney is a thought-provoking book for high school students. Wendy is coasting through the last weeks of school eager for her family trip to Alaska to see Mrs. V and Sam. Unfortunately, financial struggles threaten that dream. Wendy is determined to figure out a way to get to Alaska. When a job opportunity from a classmate looks like the ideal way, Wendy is forced to consider whether or not it’s too good to be true. There’s also a fun mystery involving a jewelry box, and Wendy’s former best friend has a new boyfriend who is bad news.

Pros: See my comment below about one of the main plot points related to a scandal that arises as a result from Wendy’s tutoring job. The ensuing ethical dilemma was thought-provoking. Cynthia creates strong and fun characters. Her stories are humorous and realistic but are clean and morally uplifting. Wendy’s stepdad looses his job threatening her summer plans. Consequently Wendy pitches in to earn money for her Alaska trip to see Mrs. V. David and Wendy handle coupledom without being too physical or dramatic. Wendy is a big-hearted girl, especially when it comes to her stepsister Alice and her former best friend Jen.

Cons: Not too many. There are a few ethical things that come up. The aforementioned plot point of Wendy’s tutoring job. Also, Jen gets involved with an older boy who is a bad influence. There’s alcohol involved, which is handled very well. It’s clear that underage drinking shouldn’t be condoned and that drinking and driving is extremely dangerous. David and Wendy kiss and physical temptation (at a very PG level) comes up. The two “put on the brakes” fast so the story doesn’t go far with this.

Rating: 5 Stars. I bought a copy of this book and will buy other copies for teens. It’s definitely a book for high school kids, possibly seventh or eighth graders. There’s nothing really inappropriate in the subject matter. However, it’s is a bit too mature for kids any younger than this.

Personal Opinion: I’m a big fan of the Bird Face series and 6 Dates doesn’t disappoint. Wendy is as funny and plucky as ever. Alice is sweet. David, Gail, etc. round out a strong supporting cast. Without spoiling anything, we’re reunited with several characters from 8 Notes to a Nobody (Book 1).

Discussion points for parents & teachers:

  1. Job Loss
  2. Family
  3. Dating/Relationships
  4. Academic Dishonesty
  5. Underage Drinking/Drinking and Driving
  6. Integrity
  7. Priorities

Most of all, Wendy’s dilemma about her tutoring job challenged me. She is concerned that she’s doing too much for the students she’s tutoring.  As an adult, I didn’t see anything wrong with what Wendy did. However, I had to step back and put myself in the shoes of a high school student. While adult writers might hire an editor or someone in another profession might have a peer or senior colleague review their work and mark it up with corrections and suggestions, that isn’t really the role of a tutor. They’re just supposed to help a student understand concepts not heavily correct or even rewrite assignments.

Cynthia T. Toney

Blog:  http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.comFacebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/CynthiaTToney

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

 Instagram:  @CynthiaTToney

Pinterest:  Cynthia T. Toney, YA Author

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A Different Kind of Trust

 

I stabbed the unsterilized pin into my thumb, then squeezed it until I was rewarded with a small blob of blood. With a scrunched face and a small squeal, my girlfriend followed suit.

We triumphantly held up our bloodied thumbs, then pressed them together. We were blood sisters forever!

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As an adult, I cringe at the memory of the unsterilized pin and the possible exchange of viruses or whatever else we could have contracted that day. But we were only eight and we’d seen a similar blood ceremony in a movie. That day, however, was the start of a long sisterhood and a close bond that lasted through making forts behind sofas to giggling about boyfriends in high school. We trusted each other implicitly and would never have knowingly hurt each other. We would have sacrificed a hundred date nights than to have stood idly by watching pain enter each other’s lives.

I’ve since discovered even more of a trusting and protective relationship between my husband and I. Our soul aim within our relationship is to try and make each other happy and secure.

But yesterday I was reminded of the most important relationship of my life. I strode into my friend’s hospital room, and was greeted by the radiant smile of my sister in God. She had been in and out of the hospital for years with infections due to circulatory problems. Last year after a few toes had been amputated on her left foot, she lost her whole foot and ankle. Now she is facing more amputations on her right foot. But through it all, her faith remains strong. Of course there were tears, especially when she told me about her son who hadn’t visited for two years. God promised that there would be problems in this life, but He also promised He would never abandon us, and would always walk through trials with us.

Learning how to trust God through trials takes me back to another story, this time, from my teen years. I worked at a stable in exchange for riding lessons. One horrible night, I smelled smoke in the hallway of the barn. While a few people raced to battle the blaze in the feed room, others ran to evacuate the horses.

One horse refused to budge from his stall. There was smoke funnelling down the hallway and all his senses told him that his stall was the only secure place. I hauled at his halter, but when a thousand pound animal sets its feet against a hundred pound girl, there is no contest. It was only when I covered his eyes with my sweater that he allowed me to lead him through the smoke. When he arrived with the rest of the horses outside the smoky barn and I took off his blindfold, he immediately settled down.

Similarly, we have to relinquish control and walk ahead by blind faith alone at times of trials. When there is pain in our lives, we have to trust that God has a master plan for it all. If we could see our lives from beginning to end, we wouldn’t receive gifts like faith, and hope.

My friends earn my trust by not hurting me or allowing pain to enter my life. However trusting God is a different kind of trust. God isn’t interested in protecting me from all pain – he has a much bigger goal in mind. As a parent, I do understand that to shelter my kids from pain is to not allow them to grow stronger as adults. And unfortunately pain is often God’s tool to increase my faith in Him. Like the blindfolded horse that had to relinquish control to walk through the smoke, I too have to trust that His plan is the best, even if it hurts.

After all, this world isn’t our home, and God isn’t in the business of making us comfortable and happy here. If nothing else, pain is a reminder that I’m not meant to handle life’s trials alone.

Here is my gift to you! If you haven’t heard Laura Story’s song Blessings, you are in for a treat. Have a listen!

 

 

 

The Making of a Family: The Proof of GOD’s Intervention

I have always known that I was adopted as an infant. Same with my three younger brothers.

Before  we could truly grasp what it meant to be “adopted”, we knew we had been adopted. Seriously, my youngest brother who endured surgery for a double hernia at the age of two and two-thirds months, thought his surgery scars were from being adopted. His older and wiser siblings who knew all about this adoption stuff tried to correct his faulty thinking but to no avail. We finally gave up, deciding he’d figure it out eventually.

Our understanding of adoption came from this book, read to us continuously from the day we became part of our adoptive parents’ family. I promise you, “read continuously” is not an exaggeration. I’m certain I could recite the book by a very young age.

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When I searched for the book by title, the first books I found were not the familiar plain green cover I remembered so well. Knowing the book had to be on the elderly side, I feared I wouldn’t be able to find it. But I persevered and further digging uncovered an earlier edition that looked exactly as I remembered.

Talk about a trip down memory lane! The illustrations, the characters’ names, even the look of the print were all so familiar. In my mind I could see myself “reading” the story to the brother next in line behind me when we were something like 3 and 1 1/2 years of age.

By the time brother #2 came along, the book was in tatters and had to be replaced. One of the revised covers I discovered seems a little familiar so I’m wondering if the replacement book had that cover. But the copy I’ll always and forever remember is the one above.

While our parents’ chose to receive no information about our birth parents, they felt it was important that each of us be aware of our adoption, and the fact that they wanted us very, very, very much. Hence the reading of the “The Chosen Baby” time and again.

Four days after I penned my  last “slice of life” post, I discovered a rather intriguing fact about my past. A fact my adoptive parents’ knew all along but chose not to relay to me as a child who might not receive the news well. I understand that. A child’s ability to sift through information and to reason is unpredictable at best. I also get why they struggled with  the question, “So, when DO we tell her?” after I became an adult.

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It seems I was left on the doorstep of a residence in a small, Midwest town in the wee morning hours of a cold November day in 1963. Wrapped in a man’s black wool shirt and a blanket, I was approximately 3 days old, having not been born in a hospital. I was 20 in. long, weighed 5 lbs. 12 oz., and found to be in good health.

Talk about a “slice of real life”! In the less than three weeks I’ve known this bit of information, my mind has been spinning. I’ve already embarked on a journey to see what I can learn about my biological beginnings.

If this story doesn’t testify to GOD’s intervention in my life, I can’t imagine a more fitting example. I never had feelings of abandonment or shame concerning my adoption. I always assumed whomever gave birth to me didn’t feel capable of caring for me, so she/he/they chose to allow someone else to raise me.

GOD knew a young couple several counties away desperately wanted a family, and HE put the pieces of the puzzle together. And HE put the pieces together again three other times to create our family of six.

I’ll keep you updated on my journey in future columns.

UPDATE from last time. Remember how my early twenty-something son relayed news of a really-not-so-good-kind while I was writing the “They Need a Mom…” post–the one about letting young adults figure stuff out of on their own? While I’d love to report that things on that front have been resolved —you have no idea how much I’d love to be able to report that–alas, it is not so. Still, I know GOD is in control. This mama is continuing to pray GOD’s power and presence over the situation and to trust in HIS plan.

Call Beth a “cheerleader for abstinence”!  She’s passionate about saving sex for marriage and believes strongly in accountability and mentoring as crucial tools to success in postponing physical intimacy until marriage.  She’s equally as passionate about “renewed waiting”. Because SEX is worth waiting for. YOU are worth waiting for. She’d love to hear from you! Comment here OR email her at waitingmatters@gmail.com. And connect with her on Facebook at Beth Steury, Author.

Confessions of a Social Addict

 

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“… It is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others” Tenzin Gyatso (14th Dalai Lama)

I feel like I’m raising my hand in front of people, having to admit I am addicted to being social. And that is a problem when my job, whether it be writing or illustrating, requires me to be completely solitary for at least 5 hours a day. I’m sure, back when I was a young mom, the very thought of being by myself for long periods of time someday would have been second only to heaven. However, I realize as a social creature my mind goes stir-crazy without the constant interaction. (Think Tom Hanks in Castaway – “Wilson!!!”)

A friend of mine recently just returned from her winter away in southern climates. The weather was, as you would expect, gorgeous, and sunny. Palm trees and beaches galore. But she told me about having to wrestle with depression from being away from her normal friends. I can totally relate!

A few weeks back, I was sitting with my 97-year-old mom watching one of BBC’s nature series. A clan of chimpanzees was being spotlighted, and it showed how complicated their social system is, with it’s hierarchy and security in packs. It was entertaining, but startling at how similar we are in so many ways: the same need for friendship and acceptance, the same resourcefulness to gain the latter, and the same desperation when separated or rejected from their clan.

So much of our daily routines involve others, whether it is from direct interaction or contact on a myriad of social networks. That is why the social networks have literally taken hold of us; it is just another way of being with friends. Indeed, we are addicted to them, and most quite simply can’t be without their phones, or their computers. A lot could be said about being addicted to screens, however that is another blog post. 🙂

I find reality shows on tv are another example of how we need to watch others in various ‘real’ situations, so we can get close to their plight and empathize with them. It isn’t enough that we have many around us to watch and get involved with, we need more!

So what do I do when I’m trying to get through the solitary hours? I need to take a break, physically, mentally and socially. I will check on my FB friends, so a couple of texts, exercise, and give my eyes and mind a rest from the concentration. My social break is just as important as my physical and mental breaks.

And I need many different groups of friends. Other than my immediate family, I have walking buddies, coffee buddies, internet contacts, writing and illustrating colleagues and past school friends that I can’t do without. Now, looking at that list, you might think that I’m meeting them all the time. Not at all, certainly not as much as I’d like. But we all support and need each other at some point.

So I’m quite happy to admit to being a social addict. That’s the way God made me, and most days I start with meeting Him, then get to my day.

I will leave you with another quote…

“There are two questions that we have to ask ourselves. The first is ‘where am I going?’ and the second is ‘Who will go with me?’” Howard Thurman.

(Thanks Scriblerians for your support and friendship!!)

So I have a couple of questions:

  • Is there such a thing as too much social interaction?
  • What are your social vices?
  • Do you have a basketball named Wilson that you are particularly fond of?

 

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Hall of Heroes

Hall of Heroes

Just over a year ago, I posted a review about Jeri Massi’s Peabody Kids Series, in particular, Derwood, Inc., my favorite title to teach in fifth grade reading classes. I recently found out she has a new book – also set in Peabody, Wisconsin – Hall of Heroes. While she employs a style of humor similar to Derwood, Massi’s latest title goes far deeper than the surface plot of a club of middle-schoolers battling a new gang of bullies.

The ongoing war of pranks between the two groups keeps the mood light even when the gang manages to steal the the Hall of Heroes’ clubhouse, a broken-down old shed. The club members  lose more battles than they win, but “right is on their side,” and they press on toward victory.

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publicdomainpictures.net. photo by Karen Arnold

Meanwhile, Jean, the youngest member of the Hall of Heroes, experiences a serious adventure of her own. She volunteers to help Martha Harris, a reclusive lady in her church. What begins as a do-gooder project grows into a beautiful relationship, and Martha teaches her what it means to be a real hero.

Jeri Massi is able to communicate Biblical truths on a kid’s level of understanding. As Christians, we all know we ought to love God. Massi starts with this taken-for-granted cliché and guides her readers to a clear understanding that loving God brings the beautiful experience of enjoying Him forever.

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Jeri isn’t content with the standard “Heaven is a beautiful place where Christians go to live after they die.” No, heaven is much, much more. Not only is its beauty incomparable to anything on earth, heaven completes us as creatures made in God’s image.

Jeri Massi has continued to write nonfiction over the years, but I believe this is her first new fiction title since the 1980’s. I love it when a favorite author creates new work, especially after a long hiatus. Welcome back to the world of novels, Jeri!

Almost a Mother’s Worst Nightmare

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“Mom. Where are you now?”

The urgency in my son’s voice shot into my ear from my cell phone. The initial embarrassment of forgetting to turn off my cell phone during a golf game evaporated immediately.

“Dave. Why? What’s the matter?” I was sure everyone around me heard my heartbeats. My husband stopped our golf cart, and stared at me.

“Mom. Understand. I’m okay. Alright? I’m okay.”

This, of course, did nothing to calm me.

“I’ve been in a rafting accident. I’m in an ambulance on the way to Golden.”

“Oh, Dave.” I fought to control my voice and tears, and ordered myself to hold it together. “What happened? Is everyone else okay?”

The hesitation in his answer sliced through me.

“Our raft flipped over and… and my friend Rene died.”

Shock, fear and sorrow ricocheted around in my brain, but also thankfulness that I was hearing his voice trying to calm me down. He took a deep breath and related the horrific story of a weekend rafting trip gone terribly wrong.

My husband and I dropped everything and drove the four-hour trip through the night to arrive in Golden at 1:00 a.m. All I could think of was to be strong for my son who had obviously gone through the worst 12 hours of his young life.

However, when I saw my red-eyed limping son at the hotel waiting for us, my tears of thankfulness mixed with sorrow burst through the dam.

My son was exhausted from telling the story many times to the search and rescue, police, doctors etc. so we let him tell us what he could before we turned the lights out for a sleepless and restless night.

My heart couldn’t stop aching for the lovely young man whom we’d never met, and whose life had ended all too soon in a matter of minutes. Rene was well-known, and popular, and only a turn of fate placed him in the front of the raft, where two occupants were thrown into the river. Only one was retrieved to the safety of a floating, albeit eventually upside down raft.

The next day we had to clean out Rene’s truck and drive it back to his awaiting fiancée. (They were to be married in one month) Again, my tears would not be denied, as I looked at the lettering on the truck of this young man’s business. He had built a new business, was going to get married, had his whole life ahead of him, but within minutes on the river, everything he and his fiancée had planned ended.

During the long drive home, I reflected on how we are given people to love in our lives. Without the ecstatic ups from marriage, births, and watching your kids graduate etc., and the heart-wrenching downs of family feuds, sickness, and death etc., we wouldn’t be able to express ourselves realistically in our writing or identify with how others write using these emotions.

Personally, I feel blessed to be able to love deeply enough to have a battered and scarred heart. Scar tissue is stronger than the original tissue and is a testament to life.

If you’d like to read the amazing blog written by Chelsea, Rene’s fiancée, here it is.

http://cultivatebalance.ca/the-gift-of-the-night-before/

So tell me, how has life affected your writing, or do you have a favourite author, whose emotional writing you can identify with?

The Bowling Ball

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Todd goes through life much like an oversized bowling ball.

Like his arrival home – heralded by the usual thumps of him kicking perennially unlaced runners against the wall, then a shoulder check to the door while twisting the knob and finally, an eruption into the house.

“You won’t believe this,” he exclaims, stomping into the kitchen in his rumpled gray T-shirt and khakis. Frayed hems flop behind his heels. He tosses his backpack onto the island. “Mr. Crowthers sprung a surprise vocabulary test.”

Our cat sidles out of the kitchen.

Todd scratches his wild curls, yanks the milk out of the fridge and slams the door. Three fridge magnets clatter to the floor. He replaces one.

So far, the bowling game is comparatively low scoring.

“Was it a surprise to everyone else?” I retrieve a magnet from under the fridge.

“Dunno. Prob’ly.” He grabs a spoon and the Almond Crisp, then scrapes a stool to the island.

“Well, how’d you do?”

He stares at the back of the cereal box. “With what?”

“You know, the surprise test.”

“Oh, not sure. We didn’t mark ‘em yet ‘cause he had some VERY IMPORTANT things to discuss. He even held us for an extra six minutes.” He splashes the milk into the bowl, and onto the counter.

“So, what did he say?” I hand him a rag.

“Something about mid terms. I think.”

He swipes once at the milk puddle then fires the rag toward the sink, but instead nails my Easter lily. It nose-dives to the floor. Head Pin!

“Oops.”

I hate that word. But, there are others – “uh oh,” “whoops”, and the ever popular, “Was that an antique?”

“Todd. Seriously! Slow down!” I rush over and groan at the severed white bloom in the pile of dirt.

“Sorry…Oh, hey, you gotta see this.” Burrowing through the contents of his backpack, he yanks out a wrinkled piece of paper. He slaps it down exclaiming, “D’ya like that?”

I recoil – it’s stained brown from something in his pack I’d rather not know about. I gingerly smooth it out and see a circled 43/40. “Wow. Nice going. But 43 out of 40?”

“Bonus points.” He pumps a fist. “I named three Roman Emperors.”

For the millionth time, I wonder how consistent he would be if he really tried.

After re-washing the counter, I bring out the dustpan.

“Hey, I can do that,” he blurts through a full mouth.

I glance at my other tender plants – more potential pins. “Uh, no. S’okay.”

Suddenly I’m in a firm neck hold. Todd delivers a smooch that feels more like a playful punch to the jaw.

“Goin’ to Brandon’s to work on a project. ‘Kay?”

I survey my once neat kitchen. This bowling match could turn out a winning score very soon. “Sure. Great idea.” I say a bit too enthusiastically.

He hauls his backpack off the counter, snagging his cereal bowl. It clatters to the floor.

“Whoops.”

“Todd!”

Strike and end of match.

 

Does this sound like anything you could relate too? I’m hoping you can say yes.

This little story was  the winning entry to a contest on personalities I’d submitted to years ago. I think I took all of ten minutes to write it, as it was crystal clear in my mind. I had, right in my own home, all the inspiration I needed to write about a boy’s personality. All I had to do sometimes (when I wasn’t scurrying off in the car to another of his hockey practices) was grab a chai tea latte, and watch. Okay, plus grab a rag.. and a broom.. and a tylenol for my headaches.

But the difference between normal people (and I use that term loosely) and writers, is that life experiences seldom go unnoticed and/or undocumented. Living life is just doing research for our books. My boys know that my characters are them in different settings. And thankfully they are fine with that.

So tell me, how many of your characters are your family members and/or friends? Or if not, where do you get your inspiration?