Thursday, May 23, 2013

Letter to My Sons

This is a continuation of our series: Letters to our Children.

If you would like to submit a letter that you have written, please email us at itsamatterofmments@gmail.com

Dear Jake and Josh,

When you were little, I had grand plans about writing to you every birthday. The letters would be heartfelt, pieces of me, which you would always cherish and share with your children. "These are grandma's words of wisdom," you would say.

Well, that never happened. It wasn't because I had nothing to say (although I'm sure you already know that). It was that my heart was always so full, experiencing your baby "firsts", that I could never put the all the words down on paper only one time a year.

So I bought a journal. I would write down a few words describing something you did and record it throughout the year. Reading through it recently, a few nuggets came to mind that will be important for you during the rest of your "firsts". Growing up is hard work but your dad and I have been there and we will walk you through it. Here's our top five:

1) Use your sense of humor to pull you through the tough times. Being able to laugh at yourself and not take every situation too seriously will help you know when to let things slide off your back.

2) Remember that you are brothers forever. You may irritate and annoy each other now but in 10-15 years you will be best friends. The opinion of your brother will matter more to you than anyone else's. You will grow old together and show your families what love is all about.

3) Always treat girls with respect, even when they are mean. Just as you do your sister. It's better to walk away than to say or do something that will have a lasting consequence for your future.

4) Be humble. Humble confidence is an endearing quality to have and will help you be a leader that encourages others, shows kindness and often works behind the scenes without needing the spotlight.

5) Use the talents that have been gifted to you to be of service to others. Approach every task with a servant's heart. Boring, mundane and difficult tasks will test your faith and endurance, but if you ask "what can I do to help?" it will change your perspective.

Your father and I will always have your back. Mistakes will be made, that I guarantee, but we will help you through them and love you no matter what. I hope that you will tuck these anecdotes away to use when you need them most and remember, no matter how old you are I will be there for all of your "firsts".

Love, Mom

{H}

Monday, May 20, 2013

Thank a Teacher...

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week at our local elementary school. That means we are all taking an extra moment to show our appreciation in words and in deeds, to the amazing, devoted, creative, loving and extremely patient teachers who have committed their careers to shaping little human beings. While my kids were writing their thoughts of thanks on a boat-shaped cut out yesterday, it made me thankful that I've had the opportunity to work in my kids' classrooms and see first-hand how incredible their teachers are. I specifically remembered an encounter I had with my youngest son's teacher when he was in the second grade.

It was Friday afternoon, the bliss of the approaching weekend was beginning to settle, and I was outside my son's classroom waiting for the dismissal bell. Once the shrill ring pierced the air, I made my way into Mrs. A's classroom to collect my sweet 2nd-grader. As I entered the sea of carefree kids, I looked toward Mrs. A and offered her my wishes for a great weekend. Noah gathered his belongings at my feet when it happened...she gave me "the look."

This look, I'm sure you've witnessed it, or been the subject of it, can mean one of two things. One - my little person did something offensive that Mrs. A needs to share with me, or two - I'm being recruited. On this particular Friday, it was the latter.

So why did that look terrify me? Why did my flight response elevate to such high levels that I was almost willing to abandon my boys in order to escape the assignment? Because, though I hate to admit it, at times I'm selfish.

Moms, I'm sure you can relate. We juggle the needs of the members of our families, we manage complex and ever-changing households, many of us work in various degrees outside of the home, we volunteer at school, at church, for our charities of choice, and want to be present and productive as only we can be. And occasionally, we just want a quiet weekend. At that moment, that's where I was coming from.

Like elementary teachers across the country, Mrs. A has more creative ideas and well intentions than the district budget and the hours in her day, can support. That's where we come in - the able-bodied and available parents, those of us blessed enough to volunteer in our kids' classrooms and assist their teachers in the monumental task of educating our little scholars.

That Friday, my selfishness was overruled by my interest to assist. Mrs. A needed my help with a project that wouldn't quite fit in her already overburdened schedule of planning, assembling, creating, grading, assessing, leading and ultimately growing smart and good little citizens. Despite my initial reaction to run for the hills, I offered to help, honored to even be trusted with the task. Even Noah was proud of my relationship with his teacher...he LOVES Mrs. A! The benefit far outweighed the minor expense of my time.

So, for all that Mrs. A and dedicated teachers everywhere do for our children, they deserve our gratitude. During this week, and throughout the year, I suggest you find a way to communicate your appreciation, with a simple "Thank you," a thoughtful note, a quick email, or happily running to a teacher in need, especially when you get "the look."

{J}

Friday, May 17, 2013

Katie's Story, Part II

Saturday night, May 4th, was pasta night at the Hawley house. 20+ people were gathered around noodles, lasagna, and garlic bread for some “carb loading”. At least that’s what we’ve been told it’s called by our runner friends. Why were we carb loading you ask? In preparation for our grueling 5K walk for “Reaching for the Cure”. I kid because the walk was fun.

The cause we walked for is serious.

The Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation raised $424,000 for cancer research last weekend. It was their 15th annual half marathon, 10K run, 5K run/walk at the Irvine Spectrum. Currently, the areas they fund are stem cell transplantation, stem cell biology, molecular oncology and molecular and cellular genetics. Lots of medical terms that basically mean finding a cure for and improving the quality of life for children with malignant diseases. The main purpose of the PCRF is to fund innovative research so that every child will be cancer free. But they can’t do it without donations.

The event was a day of coming together and having fun. Just like some of the other days in the life of Katie Hawley. Those days may look at little different than you think. The principal at her Middle School has agreed to change her schedule so that she can attend her core classes in the morning and drive to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for chemotherapy treatments in the afternoon. She makes it back for things like Bible study with her “MMAD” group (Middle-schoolers Making a Difference) and Crux, the youth group at Crossline Church on Wednesday nights. She meets friends for dinner at favorite spots like Soup Plantation and Outback Steak house. The fun accompanies the work, and its HARD work.

Katie recently spent two weeks in San Francisco receiving the first of two MIGB treatments.

Pure radiation folks.

Her doctors told her parents that she would probably be sick and weak after the treatment and need to be isolated until the radiation levels went down. Turns out they were shocked to learn that when she was discharged (on her dad’s birthday) she WALKED out of the hospital and was hanging out with her friends by the weekend. She is a warrior. Consistently surprising her doctor’s with her stamina and energy. But she can't do it alone.

The Hawley family has begun a revolution. They, unknowingly, have created blessings for other people, by taking the unimaginable and generating a buzz around Ladera that asks “How will you make the most of what you have been given?” I know they have done that for me.

If your heart has been moved and you are asking yourself, “what can I do?” THINK of what you can provide for children that need incredible moments brought to them. Have access to a popular sports team? Know someone with VIP Disney passes? Are you a photographer that could do a free session for a family battling this devastating disease? Have money to donate to contribute to a CURE? DO it!

From May 17th to May 26th, get your car washed at Las Flores Hand Car Wash and they will donate $2 to a Gas for Katie Fund, providing gas cards for the Hawley family to go to and from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. If you would like to make a direct donation go to www.gas4katie.org

Whatever you think you can do, do it! You don't have to wait for the next charity run to make a child's dream come true. Help now. It will be one of the most important things you'll ever do, I promise. {H}

Monday, May 13, 2013

Is Kagillion a Word?

Writing is my passion! I dream about my characters when I'm doing things other than writing, which is A LOT of the time. I write notes and ideas on tiny scraps of paper and in notebooks and scratch pads that litter my home and car. It's my FAVORITE thing to do. I will NOT call it a hobby though. All of the writing coaches and author-type websites say that diminishes your writer identity and self esteem. I'm OWNING my inner writer here.

I've had lots of friends ask about the writing process wondering when I'm going to publish my first book, the one I just finished editing. And that is a very good question. When I start to explain how it works, that as an author, I need a literary agent to sell a book to a traditional publisher, and that there's this very specific thing called a query letter that I have to send out to a kagillion agents in the hopes of finding at least one that likes my work, and then the agent and I will have to polish it up so they can try to sell it to a publisher, and if I am ever-so-lucky to get to that spot, then I get to spend six months working with an editor to get my book ready for market. Well, by the time I'm done explaining all of that, they are sorry they asked.

I get it! Unless you're in it, unless it's your dream and you've been researching all-things-writer-like and participating in webinars on query letters and synopses and landing an agent, all the while writing and editing until you've lost feeling in your hands, it really isn't very interesting. But in case you have ever wondered about the process that we write about here, or in case there's a tiny little voice whispering to you, telling you that you too have a story worth sharing, here's a bit of information about writing and publishing.

Many literary agents review only your query letter to determine if your book is a match for them. If they like what they see, they will ask for sample pages from your book, the first 20 pages, maybe more. (That's called a partial submittal and it's a really good start.) If they like your sample pages, they will ask to see your full manuscript. (This is really GREAT!) If they like it, if it's polished, has strong and compelling characters, has a marketable plot and interesting subplots, if the conflicts and resolutions move the story along at a quick and engaging pace, if the storyline and thematic elements are unique, if the manuscript is all of these things and there are very few errors or major areas for editing, then you may have just landed yourself an agent. (This is HUGE!) I have to warn you though, some authors land literary agents and their books, for some reason or another, don't make it to publication. And competition is fierce. Most agents receive hundreds of queries a week. It can be a long process. That's why I'm already working on my next book. (With Holly...it's soooo cool!)

So, without further ado, here's my query letter. I've only sent one, to one of my favorite LAs and I got a really nice "No thank you. Your query letter is good but it's not the right project for me..." rejection letter. (I've recovered.) I'm finalizing my bio and synopsis, also needed for submittal, and I will post those here soon.

Thanks for sticking with this looonnnngggg post on the writing process. If you ever wanted to write a book, don't let any of this deter you. The writing really is the FUN part!

Love,

{J}

Dear Ms. Nelson,

I am a long-time follower of your blog and an avid fan of your unique and witty viewpoints on writing and representing. Complete at 106,000 words, THE POSSIBILITY OF HER is best described as upmarket women’s fiction with a healthy dose of romance, and is intended to appeal to fans of authors such as Susanna Kearsley and Jodi Picoult.

Is it possible to attain forgiveness when the person whose forgiveness you seek, is dead?

Gwen Parks was a junior in college in the cozy, coastal town of Seaside, California, when her ex-boyfriend’s shooting rampage almost killed her. Suffering a gunshot to the head, Gwen was left with haunting hallucinations and relentless guilt. After all, it was her fault that her best friend Simone had been murdered. Had she only told someone, anyone, about Garrett’s threats, maybe she could have averted the tragedy that left her alive, but broken.

When Simone’s spirit first appeared to her, Gwen was grateful to have her best friend back, even if she was a ghost. But at the same time, she was terrified to disclose the secret behind Simone's death. In the months that followed, Simone’s presence revealed two things: one, Gwen was capable of navigating life's unexpected and inevitable twists, and two, the only forgiveness Gwen needed to embrace that second chance at life, was her own.

THE POSSIBILITY OF HER is a dual perspective piece that spans two time periods. Woven with Gwen’s heartbreaking junior year is her present-day, filled-to-the-brim life, complete with husband, career and three young children. It's the life she once believed she’d never have. When her husband is diagnosed with cancer, and her annual scan uncovers a mass where the bullet once was, Gwen fears the worst: that she doesn't deserve all this happiness after all. Even more unsettling is the real possibility that Simone is just a symptom of her brain injured beyond repair. The timelines are woven together with moments of strength and sorrow, levity and loss, as together they prove that Gwen's resilience has been hidden within her all along.

In addition to my fiction projects, I am a regular guest columnist in the Orange County Register newspaper and co-author of a community-women’s blog, itsamatterofmoments.com.

Thank you for your consideration and time. I look forward to demonstrating whether my writing matches your interests.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Hale

Friday, May 10, 2013

Motherhood...Life's Hard Work!

When my husband and I first got married at the young age of 25 and 22, respectively, we decided to wait a little while before embarking on the journey of parenthood. Both of us the youngest of three siblings, we’d been exposed to the “transformation” as our older brothers and their wives blazed the trail.

“Just wait until you have your own…you won’t believe how much love you will feel for your child!” they’d exclaim while ogling at the prodigy in our midst with what Michael and I called “parental beer goggles.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we didn’t adore our nieces and nephews too, it’s just that you really can’t fully comprehend the capacity to love as a parent loves, until you are there, and we weren’t yet there.

By the time we were ready a few years later, we couldn’t wait to join our family and friends in the elite and enlightened club of parenthood. I, specifically, couldn’t wait to know the joy of holding the miracle mixture of my husband and me, sweetly sleeping in my new-mommy arms; and the pride when describing my adorable toddler’s attempt at singing the alphabet song; and even the sorrow that would come with a bruised knee or hurt feelings, knowing that I had the power to soothe it all away.

I admit that I really had no idea how much my world would change when I first heard the words, “It’s a girl!” In the thirteen years since, I have had some great parenting moments, and some that I never thought I'd utter out loud, let alone BLOG about. Like the time I stuck my finger down my two-year-old's throat trying to get her to throw up the cough syrup she drank from the bottle. (Those caps aren't as child-safe as they seem.) Poor thing wet herself right there standing in her Cinderella dress and her red-ruby slippers. Proud mommy moment...not so much. Or when I was too tired to go upstairs when my son asked for his blanket, (let's face it, when they're tiny people all we do is go up and down those damn stairs!) so I sent him. It only took him two minutes to make his way back downstairs with his blanket and a wry smile. (That's never a good sign.) Apparently, while on his assignment, he found a marble, a dime and a Barbie shoe. They were ALL in his mouth. I may as well have given him some whole grapes or a hot dog!

Of course there are many things I'm proud of too. I love that my kids like to talk to me and tell me their secrets and worries and hopes. They ask questions, they trust me and they give me the chance to shape their hearts and souls. It's hard and rewarding work, mothering. And as they get older, it takes more composure and wisdom to answer their questions about things like friendships ("did you ever have friends who bullied you when you were a kid?") and peer pressure ("I feel like I'm the only one who doesn't have insert item of desire here") and sex ("can you do it just once to get the number of kids you want, or do you have to do it once for each kid?") Even when I have to "get back to them on that one," my heart warms at the mere fact that they asked me. And I couldn’t imagine a life more meaningful, challenging, fulfilling, sleep-depriving, amazing and harrowing than that of a mother (or father).

So during this gloriously blessed Mother's Day weekend, I honor and thank my amazing mother, my sweet daughter, my loving aunt, my fabulous sisters-in-law, my awesome cousins and my wonderful friends who have all, in some way, shared with me the joys of motherhood and helped shape the woman and mother that I am today.

With or without children, women possess a great capacity to love and nurture those we care about. During this special weekend, go hug a mom, a friend, or a woman who has impacted your life and enjoy a very happy Mother’s Day!

Love,

{J}

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pinterest...How I Love Thee!

Oh Pinterest! I can't get enough of your wonderful ideas! Is there even one bad thing about you? I have planned several vacations to places I've never heard of, put together the perfect home and the perfect outfit, and have lived vicariously through those of you that have put on the greatest Summer BBQ (complete with homemade napkin rings and...a circus tent?). I know that as I spend time gazing at all the lovely things, I am gaining so much knowledge in my time-wasting that it can only be for the betterment of my family. Otherwise they may have never known about "Taco's in a Muffin Tin",


                                                                                                              

Taco "Cupcakes"  Make little tacos in a muffin tin by layering wonton wrappers and taco fillings.
                                                                                                                      
Zu Besuch von Schloss Neuschwanstein im Winter
 

that Zu Besuch von Schloss Neuschwanstein was a place we really should visit someday,

AND

and that there were so many ways to arrange living room furniture (it's a sickness people).

Pinterest is eye candy and inspiration all in a perfect package! Although MOST of the pictures we see are really quite remarkable, there are those few that make you do a double take. For instance, tattoo pictures (hmmm...), photoshopped pictures of baby faces on animal bodies or vice versa (just weird), and the urinal Halloween costume...well, its' creative...



:/
:) 

I prefer to use it as a place to store all the things I like, what makes me laugh and what I hope to have, do, make, or to visit someday.

There can be a downside. The one-upping mentality. The knowing my pictures will never quite look the same. The knowing that I will never be able to live up to the "Super-Room Mom" craft ideas for my kids' teachers. The insecurity that creeps in if I look too long.

Oh well. I think I can be OK with that. The pictures are pretty and can be so inspiring, sometimes a 10 minute break in the day to "look and see" is all I need.

With Mother's Day right around the corner, if you are still looking for that gift that will bring tears to her eyes (in a good way) here are some great ones we found...

thumbprint necklace,

if your mom is a baker...

a good use of chalkboard paint...

cute wrapping using washi tape and twine

and of course...handprints! This is a cute one

And, Here are some of our favorites:



Father's Day gift         Brilliant!

Summer bbq drinks!           Love this for Halloween    
seaside homes in portofino, italy.

All of these can be found on our Pinterest Boards with the links! What are some of your favorite Pinterest Pics?

{H}

Friday, May 3, 2013

Midge's Meatballs

I will definitely be sharing a delicious meatball recipe at the end of this post but it's not exactly what I'm writing about today. Today I want to talk about parenting, and being nice to others and a lovely lady named Midge. She is the mother of one of my dearest friends. She is the real and true definition of hospitality.

When you think of hospitality, what comes to mind? Visions of dinner parties and hostess gifts? Martha Stewart? Taking a meal to a friend in need? I looked up the definition and according to Webster's dictionary, it means "the generous and friendly reception of guests without reward." I don't think many people are throwing dinner parties for guests and expecting something in return, but what about the generous and friendly reception of strangers? I think when someone is not just nice to a stranger but goes out of their way to make them feel welcome and important, that is the real definition of hospitality.

That is Midge.

Recently she was visiting from her home in New Hampshire and her daughter, Sue, threw her a birthday party. Sue had asked several people from her mother's past to write a letter to her mom and share some of their favorite memories. One that struck me was how when her kids were growing up, she kept extra pairs of gloves by the door for visitors (they lived in Chicago). She would send the kids on scavenger hunts in the snow and when they came back she'd sit with them and talk about important kid stuff. My daughter's music teacher is always pointing out that kids spell love T-I-M-E (who doesn't ADORE Mr. Healy?). My friend Sue grew up KNOWING she was loved because her mother gave her the gift of time.

When I showed up at the party, I went to give Midge a hug and say happy birthday. She grabbed me and pulled me into the living room and sat next to me on the couch and asked question after question about how I was and how my family was and what had I been up to? It had been years since we last saw each other but she immediately made me feel like an old close friend that she had been waiting to catch up with. I knew in a room of fifty other people, this was not true, but you would never have known it to see her reaction and how she welcomed me! Now granted, I'm not a stranger to her, but it takes special talent to make each person you are speaking with feel as if they are the only important person around. It feels pretty good.

Sue and I talk often of parenting and how difficult it is as our kids get older. Social media is the norm and trying to find a good balance and teach them that it’s OK to NOT always have a phone or to be posting on Instagram 24/7 is a challenge. Sue told me once that she told her mother how bored she was one day when she was in junior high. Midge handed her a basket of clean socks and told her to match them and put them away and then share about how bored she was. I've tried this and it works by the way. But only if they don’t have access to their phone.

Is parenting getting harder? Why? Do we just feel as if the challenges are becoming more difficult to deal with or are they? I know for all parents everywhere, combating the outside world and its influence over our kids is one of the innate challenges of being a parent. We do the best we can. I do feel, however, that parents who are dealing with issues that face middle school and high school kids in this time RIGHT NOW, face extra burdens that other generations have not. The burdens that make the moments of feeling good about yourself few and far between. Pressures to conform, succeed and compete in everything can often cloud the vision of who we really are. Especially for young teens that are just on the brink of discovering what that looks like. Social media can be a great thing! I love that I can see my little nieces every day even though they live hundreds of miles away. It can bring many blessings. It can also be a horrible reminder of all that is evil in this world. How do we combat that as parents?

It's easy to say, just don't let them have it (phones, Instagram, ask.fm, etc.) but does that solve the problem? Would a better solution be to teach them who they really are and how much they matter so when they are faced with the evils of social media they can have the tools they need to cope? I don't know what the answer is. I would CERTAINLY write a book about it if I did! I think the answer will be different for each child, and only YOU as the parent know that answer. One thing each one of us moms and dads have in common, no matter what we disagree on, is that we are WARRIORS for our kids. No one else can be a better advocate. We have to be INTENTIONAL about our parenting and what we are advocating for. Part of that intention should include teaching our kids to be kind and being kind to them in return. Grace can go a very long way when parenting, especially a teen. Giving them the gift of ourselves and our time will hopefully instill in them their importance and how much they are loved!

So how does all this tie in with hospitality? We are the example to our children of how to treat others, how to welcome others and how to develop relationships with others. Showing the trait of hospitality to others will teach our kids to be kind and generous to those around them. BEING that way towards our children will teach them that we believe that they are the most important person in the room. We are the first line of defense between our kids and the outside world. We will mess up. We will wish we made better decisions. They will probably need therapy of some kind. But if we can take a little note from Midge, and spend that time knowing our kids and being intentional about finding that time, the chances are good that they will grow up knowing they are loved.

{H}

Midge’s Meatballs

3 lbs ground beef (or ground turkey or a 1/2 mix)

3 T garlic salt

2 eggs

2 cups Italian breadcrumbs (or a little less or more)

2 T butter

1 T olive oil

Mix all ingredients until mixture is thoroughly combined, should be moist but not stick to your hands (can adjust breadcrumbs). Roll into bite size balls. Heat large fry pan over medium heat and add butter and olive oil. Brown meatballs on all sides, in batches and let drain on paper towel. Add to tomato sauce or eat alone. Enjoy!