Friday, September 22, 2017

Who Likes A Routine?

I love the fall. I love the crisp air and the crispy leaves crunching beneath my feet. I love all things apple and pumpkin. I love making soups and stews and breads and cookies. I even love the time change.

But what I love most about the shifting seasons this time of the year, is the family ROUTINE. Kids are getting up with their alarms so there's no more morning blanket tug-o-war. Afternoons are filled with productivity and I know where all my kiddos are. Family dinners happen occasionally and sometimes, if we're really lucky, I'll pop popcorn for some good old fashioned family TV-viewing. Oh, it's so glorious!

So, here are some ways to get in the spirit of a new school year and fill your heart with all-things-autumnal:

1. Get yourself a planner or calendar, maybe even a pretty one that you can decorate with washi tape and stickers and pretty pens.

2. Schedule all the essentials: work events, sports/activities, BTSN, date nights, holiday parties, etc., but leave room for much needed downtime and family fun. (I bet you didn't know it but you can actually say NO sometimes. Try it...it's very liberating!)

3. Sign up for some family volunteer opportunities, maybe at your church or a local food bank. It's amazing how much your heart grows when you help others.

4. Make a priority of checking in with your family members and close friends, cultivating those relationships, careful not to overextend yourself.

5. Chart out your goals for the year and have your family do the same. Add some silly ones (for example, I really want to learn how to replicate CP's chocolate chip muffins), and some not-so-silly ones (like, I really need to organize ALL THE CLOSETS AND DRAWERS AND GARAGES AND THINGS...UGH!)

6. Then, watch the routine and progress make things sweet.

So bake with your kids, dance with your partner, plant some pretty flowers, light a candle or two, use the good stuff, and LIVE life full and out loud. There's no better time than NOW.

Happy Fall Y'all!

{J}

Friday, September 1, 2017

Ten Things I Learned Going Back To School

Well, we made it through the first week and this is what I learned (or re-learned) going back to school:

1. No matter what grade, no matter how many years your child has been in the same school/district, there is a boat load of paperwork to fill out on day one. (Though it's getting a bit better with the parent portal - right, CUSD friends?)

2. It never fails, when shopping for school supplies, you will not get ALL THE THINGS on your first trip. It will take MANY trips to many different stores to secure ALL the things. Don't be discouraged. I'm pretty sure it's a test.

3. School clothes shopping is not just for parents anymore. Grandparents are out in droves. I've seen them, mostly grandmas. They're covering their ears cuz "the music in these stores is sooo loud." They're shrugging their shoulders when their grandkids come out of the dressing room. They're ringing their hands, "will your mom and dad approve of that?" If this happens in your family, be a love and send grandma with a list and any applicable dress code details.

4. If YOU are the one shopping, good luck to you. That is all.

5. Homework happens immediately. With earlier testing dates, higher standards and a changing curriculum, there's no easing them (US) back into it. Get ready.

6. Fundraising. School sports and/or performing arts. Boosters. School pictures. Yearbooks. Get a second job. Or a third one. Go. August and September are more expensive than December.

7. Electronic devices need to be shelved for a bit. It's called DETOX and it's necessary for everyone (at least in my family.) It's painful but it's the only thing that will cure DIDBD - Device Induced Brain Drain Disorder. If that isn't a thing, it will be soon. Just wait. I bet it's on Webster's list already. We're trying the NDDSD - No Device During School Days - treatment method. If you see my kids and they're twitchy, or RUDE, you know why.

8. School is magical. At EVERY age. But for very different reasons. ASK your kids. All of them - the sullen, non-verbal teen, the moody (scary) tween, the precious little - and find out what part of school induces that twinkle in their eyes. Just listen. Don't try to influence. It might be the cute boy in chemistry or the cow eyeball dissection in science or the "Super Duck" (shoot me now) fundraising prizes. Whatever form it comes in, celebrate the magic.

9. Teachers are SAINTS. This isn't new news, but I really mean it. Your kid might not always get his/her/YOUR favorite teacher but no one does the job of educating and preparing our kiddos for the next steps in life better than the professionals. Remember, this week is approximately 28-32 times harder on them. Be kind and patient.

10. Peace is a choice people. Going back to school is stressful, for EVERYONE. The only way to soften the blow is to find a few moments each day to relax. That goes for the stressed-out-because-she-already-has-two-tests-AND-the ACT 12th grader, the can't-get-enough-sleep-cuz-has-to-be-up-for-surf-at-5:30 9th grader, and the fell-asleep-doing-homework 8th grader. The same applies for you, mom and dad. Carve out some time for a pedicure or a bike ride, a great work out or a date night. And if time permits, maybe work intentional PEACE into the rotation. It's good for all.

Sooo...tell me about your week. Learn anything?

{J}

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

They Say You Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends...True??

Help! I'm just not sure how I'm going to manage the emotions of this year. Bella is a senior and will be leaving for college in about thirty-two seconds. Logan is a freshman and made the surf team, so SHARKS. And Noah will graduate eighth grade, which means his childhood is gone. GONE!!

So you may need to send a therapist. Or a priest. Or sugar. (How the hell could Cinnamon Productions leave me?!?!) Or vodka. Or all of the above. I'm really concerned for my sad, sorry self. And all those around me. But mostly me.

That is all.

(Please don't forget the vodka.)

{J}

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Anniversary Checklist

Twenty-one years.

Three babies that somehow turned into teenagers.

One beach rental, one condo and two houses.

Two churches. Eight sacraments.

Two Bachelor's degrees; one Master's.

Two school districts; one City.

Four SUVs. Zero minivans.

Two sedans.

Four dogs; only Magic remains.

Four cats; only Columbus remains.

Three bunnies. Thumper's still hopping.

Three snakes. Snakey's still slithering.

Two turtles, both rescued and released.

Too many departed fish to count.

Thousands of books read.

Hundreds of movies viewed.

Innumerable games played.

Seven international vacations.

Dozens of camping trips and domestic adventures.

Thousands of beach days and park visits and play dates.

Block parties, birthday parties, amusement park visits.

Concerts, recitals, Taekwondo tournaments.

School plays, school fundraisers, talent shows.

Arguments, illnesses, bedrest.

A few curse words and several tears.

More apologies and unlimited forgiveness.

Thirteen photo albums and forty-seven pictures framed.

Countless memories with cherished family and friends.

Endless potential for blessings as this well-loved life unfolds.

Happy anniversary, my love.

{J}

Friday, July 14, 2017

It's All About Progress!

Just a quick update. Holly and I are still writing fantastic fiction together. We've had some GREAT feedback from our editor and beta readers. (Thank you...you know who you are.) What's next, you ask? We are actively seeking a literary agent. We are also working on book two people. BOOK TWO!!

It can take a long time to secure an agent and get published or it can be speedy quick. So if you have any extra prayers or positive vibes, please feel free to send them our way. We'd like the fast track but we'll totally settle for more patience and less nail-biting.

Thanks for all of your support. Happy sunshine, summer bliss to you and yours!

By the way, this meme was created at memegenerator.net. If you haven't been there, go. Now. GO! You're welcome.

{J}

Monday, June 26, 2017

Graduation News!

Our first college graduate!! We are so excited to share in her success and her bright future. Our sweet Elena...all grown up!

The story started in 2010 when our family was blessed beyond measure to meet Siyu Xu, or Elena, as she likes to be called. She was shy, sweet and new to the United States. Her home was thousands of miles away, in China, and she would call us her adopted American family from that day forward. In the years since she moved here, she has graduated high school and college, mastered English, learned to drive, traveled the states, lived on her own, and matured into a beautiful, sensitive, intelligent woman.

This year, Elena has earned a BA in Economics from UC Irvine and is taking time to study for the GRE and apply to graduate school. Her father, who has business in California (and all over the world), will also give her a chance to work and learn the family business. In the meantime, we're excited she'll have more free time to visit.

While Elena has had doors open because of her education in the United States, more importantly, she opened her heart to us and enriched our lives immensely. She is a more than a testimony to international exchange programs, she is part of our family, and we are so so proud of her. Congratulations, Elena!! We can't wait to see what the future has in store.

Love you!!

{J}

Monday, June 19, 2017

To PREP or not to PREP...That is the Question

When I was 17, I don't remember my parents or my school making a HUGE deal about preparing for and taking the college prep tests - ACT and SAT. I know, that was the "olden days" and the world has evolved, but does anyone else feel like the pressure is a little much? And I mean on us parents.

So Bella took a prep class. It was determined that the ACT was better designed for her success. She took a test and did OK and she has been studying for the next one...sort of. There are two things you should know right now: my 17 yo daughter does not like tests and she is a master procrastinator. In other words, she's a NORMAL teenager. But her mother, inundated with articles and posts about the frenzy and importance of these test scores, does not appreciate her carefree, lackadaisical approach. Bella argues that she is more than the sum of her grades and test scores and she will land exactly where she's intended to land. I argue that she still needs to invest some time in preparing for the next test because I said so. We're really in sync right now.

Teenagers can be hard to be around. And sometimes, it seems they're impossible to parent, at least in my house. But I think she may be a little right. (Don't tell her I said so.) So instead of hounding her all summer about test prep, this is my new attitude: "Why should I care more about your future than you do?" I've decided to withhold my wisdom-nagging and let other wise people do the work. Like Gandhi. Remember that magic book I talked about in this post? It's my new best friend. I don't use my words anymore, I just leave her messages from the universe. In her room...her bathroom drawer...her wallet...on her phone. It's AWESOME! And I don't have to be there to witness her eye-roll. WIN-WIN!

Feel free to employ this tactic with your own parenting challenges. You can purchase this treasure trove of inspiration here. It's the best $5.48 you'll spend EVER! You're welcome.

{J}

Friday, June 2, 2017

Lessons From A Middle School Graduate (Well, His Mom)

First of all, you should know right now that my 8th grade-graduate, 5'10", so-confident-he-rocked-a-mullet-for-a-whole-week son would disown me if he knew he was the inspiration behind this blog post, but sometimes we need to enter the blogosphere where worries and fears, phases and stages are pondered, if nothing more than to let someone else know they're not alone. So this post is brought to you for the greater good.

Today, my son completed middle school. He has been immensely blessed to have his dad at school and a network of really great people in his life during these sometimes tough years. And he been really lucky to learn some good/hard life lessons. Like, when he said something about a friend behind his back and the friend called him out on it, he had to own it and make amends. And guess what, that person forgave my son and he learned about how jealousy can make you act like the worst version of yourself. (Even grown ups can relate, right?)

There was also the first crush and break-up on Valentine's Day. (My heart still aches for him even years later; I may even imagine giving stink-eye to the heart-breaker if I ever passed her on the street. Kidding not kidding.) But eventually, after lots of painful pacing and head-shaking, he TALKED to us about it and discovered that letting something out is the only way to let the healing in.

Here are some other things he learned over these three, very important, very impactful years:

When you don't read the book and just read the spark notes, you don't know enough = Half-assing your way through life won't lead to success.

When you commit to a group project and your partner doesn't do his/her part, your grade will suffer = Pick wisely. Also, be a good partner.

When you hear someone talk about wanting to end the pain, you aren't supposed to keep THAT secret = Listening and acting saves lives and saves you from lifelong regret.

When you put something out on social media and you instantly regret it, tough S@#! = Think before you post. Always. Lif is full of consequences.

When you're with friends and someone decides to do something dumb, you don't have to do that dumb thing too = You are NOT a victim. You make choices. And don't pressure someone to do that dumb thing if it's you're idea. But TRY not to do dumb things.

Feel free to use this example with your children in whichever way it will support your conversations about peer pressure, good choices, consequences of one's actions and crack! If your kids know my kids, please leave names out. I don't know what I'd do if my children made me stop writing about them...they provide the BEST material.

{J}

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

80's Baby!!

The 80's. My era of tunes. Something magical happens when Cyndi Lauper or Prince plays on the radio and it's oh so powerful. The other day, I had the kids in the car and it was my turn to pick the playlist. Noah cued up an 80's station on Apple Music (if you don't have this, go get it NOW. $15 for the whole family to have ALL THE TUNES they desire.) Anyway, we drove along and listened to a few of my favorites:

"Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" - Wham

"Let's Go Crazy" - Prince

"Dancing With Myself" - Billy Idol

My kids were really impressed that I knew EVERY word, and could keep rhythm whilst expertly singing AND snapping!! And even more, they LOVED the carefree mom that came out for a little fun. (Friends, maybe I'm crankier than usual lately, but teenagers are HARD to live with sometimes.)

In all seriousness though, it was really rejuvenating to sing and move and connect with that part of my youth, a time when things were nice and easy, and my BFF and I spent the better part of our summers playing songs over and over on the boom box, trying to decipher the lyrics and put them to memory. Those were the days when you had to work for your music acumen. No Shazam or Google to help us out.

As we continued the drive and each of the kids got to pick their favorites too, cuz music is meant to be shared, and LOUDLY if you're with teens. Guess what? The happiness was contagious. So I got to thinking, I should to play more music in the house...it could help ALL our moods. Maybe I shouldn't always throw earbuds at my kids when they start blaring their music. An open mind is an evolved one, right?

And did you know that music has been found to be good for your health? Some doctors have shown that it even has medicinal benefits. Researchers say that music increases the amount of the mood-enhancing chemical-dopamine-produced in the brain, so it can counter depression. Music has also been proven to reduce pain in patients, alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety disorders, and even aid in memory recall for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's.

You guys, MUSIC ROCKS!!

The late, beloved Billy Idol was ahead of his time when he said, "I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music." He was so very right.

So, the Hales have decided to bring the music back and let the good times roll. When the kids get home from school, when we're cooking dinner, when we're doing chores, even sitting down with homework, tunes will be keeping us company, fueling and filling us up. And if a little dancing or snapping happens, all the better.

{J}

P.S. It wasn't until I wrote this post that I realized that all three of the artists I mentioned have passed away. I am proud that such influential musicians had an impact on my youth and I'll be sharing their music with my kids so the legacy can live on. You won't be forgotten, George, Prince and Billy.

Monday, March 27, 2017

True or False...

A couple of weekends ago, we celebrated my husband's forty-something birthday. Our house was filled with friends and LOTS of teenagers. And even though we didn't have party games, there was one activity I convinced our guests to play. It was a little bit psychic and a little bit inspiration. Here's how it went: I flipped through the pages of a little book of sayings and the person playing would say "STOP" and that would be their quote. They'd read it aloud and comments would fly. Each person in that room indulged me until everyone had their own personal anecdote to contemplate.

There were some really good ones. Quotes from Shakespeare and St. Francis. Obscure fables and familiar lessons. But this one in particular got the conversation going:

"Do what you love, even if it means you're broke."

In a room full of emerging young adults, the thoughts on this ran the gamut. Yes, money isn't everything, but the reality is that not every career choice can financially support you, no matter how much you love your job. Then what? So the parents sat around wondering how we help them figure out who they want to be and what they want to do? How do we make them understand that today's decisions will impact their future choices? How do we impart a wisdom that only comes with experience on a generation who just needs more experience? The answer is, we really can't.

Because what we value is different than what they value. In fact, if we're honest and rewind the clock twenty or so years, we'll likely find that what we value today is very different than what was important to us when we were young and free and our future stretched out in front of us with perfect timing and ideal outcomes awaiting. And we had to take the path, rocky and bumpy as it may have been, to get here. They must do the same.

It starts with activities as mundane as laundry and chores, and exposure to service projects giving them a glimpse of the great joy derived from helping others. When they're old enough, they need to get a real job where someone other than mom and dad, tells them what to do and how to do it better. They need the chance to be accountable for their own money and sometimes, they have to feel the disappointment when they don't have enough for that thing they really want. All of these things, all of these life experiences will begin to weave in them a knowledge and a passion and a purpose that will drive them forward, hopefully, leading them to something they love, and something that can support them.

When you're young, being broke and passionate propels you to find your own path and figure things out. As an adult, sometimes being broke comes in a different shape, and it's good for our kids to see us working that through too. Growth, if done right, is a lifelong and life-giving endeavor and as parents, it's our responsibility to listen and guide, but even greater, is our job to fortify the launching pad so that each of them has a successful take off.

We can't guarantee, and we shouldn't, that the journey will always be sufficiently filled with money and passion and fulfillment, because it won't be. But we should assure them that the ups and downs, the highs and lows, have their own way of making the ride a sweet one.

"Do what you love, even if it means you're broke." Such a little saying with such a big meaning. What do you think?

{J}

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

We Are Called To Love

Ash Wednesday is upon us. For Christians, it marks the beginning of Lent, a period of solemn, spiritual preparation for Holy Week and the celebration of Easter. It is a time to remember and imitate the life and ministry of Jesus and it leads up to the commemoration of his death and resurrection. That’s what Christians celebrate.

But we don’t have to stop there. I have friends of varying faiths that use this time to bring into mind their own values and beliefs, to remember the reasons behind the rituals, to contemplate. And what a gift. Every morning, we have the great opportunity to start anew. To think about how our mark on this earth can be just a little bit sweeter and to DO something about it. To be more kind, more disciplined, more gracious, more present, more faithful, more loving.

When I think about some of the recent atrocities brought upon our fellow believers, fellow human beings, around the world, it’s hard to ignore the fact that our world is in dire need of grace and love. Sometimes, I forget that THAT’s my job - in the midst of carpools and craziness, in spite of the terror on every news channel, especially when it's not easy or convenient – my job is to spread forgiveness and understanding and love.

People, my prayer this Lent is that each of us takes advantage of the opportunity to remember our God, regardless of the name we call him, and to contemplate how we can each shower great LOVE upon the world, like HE did. What a privilege it is that we even get that chance.

So during this blessed season, I leave you with the profound words of Sister Joan Chittister:

"It is very easy to forget the wonders God has done for us. God often performs these marvels when we are least hopeful they will happen, least sure they can happen.

Out of death, after pain diminishes and numbness fades, new life so often comes forth. After the loss of one direction, another more vibrant than the first so often emerges. Beyond what the world says are our best years, comes a fullness of life unmatched by any other stage.

These are the miracles of life. These are the wonders we stumble into, so obviously not our own making that they must be of God. These are the things that must be remembered in the midst of the daily, dull, depressing moments of life.

Good has so often come out of even the more shabby parts of our own life. We retreat from religion because it disappoints, only to find no better answers elsewhere and return more spiritual than ever before. We fail ourselves miserably, then find new life when we discover that people loved us for ourselves, not our images. We get stopped in our indulgent, dishonest, ambitious, shiftless tracks and become newer, better selves. These are the wonders of life.

Every life is filled with a series of small miracles designed to carry us through dark days, up steep mountains, down into the valley of death, beyond every boundary.

One of the spiritual disciplines of Lent is to recognize these, to let praise raise in our hearts. We need to see the miracles of our lives as signs along the way that no path is too twisted, no burden so heavy, no social system so impenetrable as to confound us utterly. The God who has sustained us in the past will not desert us in the present.

Praise and memory take us into tomorrow with open minds and certain hearts."

Love and peace to you!

{J}

(Passage from Ideas in Passing - benetvision.org)

(Originally posted 2/15/15)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Nightmare on Beacon

I had the most TERRIBLE nightmare the other night! It was so real that I shot right out of bed and went to check on my kids. It took forever to get back to sleep. Now, I don’t watch the news or CSI or anything having to do with child molesters or kidnappers because, well, because my children like to go outside and want to continue to do so.

So here’s my issue. When I gave birth to Bella, I went from easy-going, carefree, soon-to-be-new mom, to a paranoid, vulnerable, heart-outside-of-my-body mom. And then we had two more babies after that, just to make sure I fulfilled my maximum potential of anxiousness.

But I honestly believed it would get easier, because, you know, as babies grow to be toddlers, fevers and funky rashes that could be the deadliest form of Kawasaki’s disease, usually subside. And as toddlers get a little older, they stop sticking pennies and Barbie shoes and marbles in their mouths, or running away for no reason other than to give you a heart attack. And as children turn into teens, they’re more coordinated and don’t fall off their skateboards (or the couch) and break as many bones. And when teens turn 18 years old, when they finally earn the title of adulthood (ha), they know all the things and make all the good decisions and EVERYTHING is right with the world so I never have to worry again. Ahhh!! (Queue heavenly angels singing.)

Actually, THIS is exactly my issue. What no one told me when I became a mom—nor would I have understood if they had—is that I would never see a day without worry. NEVER. EVER.

So when I had the most TERRIBLE nightmare the other night, that I was married to a wife-beating-child-abuser, and that he was going to kill us if we tried to get away, and that my brave and fierce neighbor Mrs. Robertson broke us out and drove us to safety (thanks friend!), it makes PERFECT SENSE that my latest worry is this: how can I make sure that my daughter doesn’t find herself in an abusive relationship and that my sons never abuse their girlfriends/wives. And let’s take it one step further, just for good measure. How do I safeguard our incredible nieces and nephews? Or our sweet Godchildren? OR OUR GRANDCHILDREN?!?!

Are my issues becoming clear? Do I need to point out that we don’t have grandchildren, yet I have found a way to dedicate sleepless nights in their name?

In the off chance that I’m not alone, that someone else out there shares my open-invitation to fear, I’ve been trying to figure out how to let my kids grow up without the irrational need to influence every step of the way. (It's a process.) The news on the street is that we need to let them fail. That’s how they learn. That’s how they get tough enough to survive the real (big, scary, dangerous?) world. I hear that everywhere and I KNOW IT’S TRUE. But my heart's not so sure.

There’s a fine line between informing our kids of a sometimes-harsh reality and scaring them. There’s a balance between our desire to shelter them and their need to be prepared. And pretending that bad things can’t reach them if they stay inside the safe bubble we’ve worked so hard to fortify may help us sleep at night, but it won’t help them when that fragile bubble bursts. Which will happen, in some way, shape or form.

So here’s your take-away...Listen closely because I care about you and I think this is the only thing that’s going to save us all: the way to keep them safe is to realize that we can’t, and to stop trying. We don’t have control over everything that happens to them, not forever. And we need to redirect our efforts to a greater, more important cause: to teaching them how to fall, rebound, contemplate, change direction and grow.

We have to help them find the confidence to advocate for themselves, as well as the resilience to overcome defeat. They need to learn to use their voices to stand up for what’s right, but understand that sometimes, it won’t be enough. We have to show them we have faith in them, at the same time help them build their faith in God. And we need to provide them with the skills and tools to deal with disappointment, work through pain, manage anger and navigate worry. (Easy work, right?)

These things won’t dispel all of our fears, they won’t give us back our sleepless nights, but they will give us something else to focus our energy and attention on. Something much more lasting and impactful.

As a wise fish once said: “You can’t never let anything to happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.” I’m going to remember that one.

Be strong friends and have faith when you aren’t. And if you've found a way to navigate the worry, please share. We are each other's angels.

{J}

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Moments and Milestones

Well, we're back from our whirlwind weekend at the San Diego State University Writers' Conference. It was AMAZING! Yet again, the organizers brought together an impressive collection of talent, inspiration, professionals, tips and tools.

Despite the downpour of rain and tumbling tumbleweeds, we arrived to the conference on Friday eager to meet some new writerly friends and pitch, pitch, pitch! We had our list of workshops and our advanced reading appointments all set. Friday night, we hung out with a great group of people at the mixer-game night hosted by the hilarious creators of Game Night in a Can - Jason and Barry. They lead us in a series of team activities and physical challenges, complete with prizes and killer music!! I'm happy to announce that the YA table - District 14 - won the Best-Worst Book Title and Cover prize for a children's book called There's a Dead Man in My Dreams. It was so fun!

Saturday we perfected and practiced our pitch, met with engaging agents and savvy editors, learned more about our art, networked, brainstormed and Tweeted (the writing world is all over Twitter). We had appointments with literary agents and editors seeking authors for their publishing houses. The end result was three of them asking for us to send them the whole manuscript. That's a WIN!

When Holly and I woke up this morning, we could barely talk to each other. Not for lack of words and ideas, but because of ALL THE WORDS AND IDEAS! So we played the Fault in Our Stars soundtrack while we got ready for the morning festivities. And then, AND THEN, we were honored and so, so surprised to be nominated for the Conference Choice Award. Erin Quinn, our brilliant conference director says that there's a lot of negative feedback in the world of writing and these awards are meant to let us know we're doing something right. To Holly and me, it was the cherry on top, the icing on the cake, the fuel to our fire.

If you don't know any writers or editors or literary agents or book promoters or writers' conference directors, you should know this one thing: they are generous. They share their stories, their formulas for success, their encouragement and even a few fair warnings. And I think they impart such wisdom because they've been here, in this scary place where doubt and fear make writers feel like their work isn't good enough. This weekend, the keynotes were bestsellers R.L. Stine, Jonathan Maberry, J.A. Jance and Sherrilyn Kenyon...BESTSELLERS, famous and successful and still kind. They were gracious and funny, inspiring and authentic, and genuinely hopeful for all of us. And that's why people come from all over the world to attend this conference. This is our community you guys, and it is wonderful!

So thank you to everyone who messaged, texted, encouraged and prayed. We made friends, learned more than we could have imagined and have A LOT to do! We will keep you posted on our progress.

And #SDSUwriters, thank you, truly. We will see you next year!!

{J&H}

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Word of 2017 Is...

Happy New Year, all! Wow...2017 is in full swing! The years just seem to slip on by, no matter what I do to slow things down. I believe this is the same sentiment that begins every year. Last year, my #oneword was EQUILIBRIUM and reflecting back, I think the Hales did a good job of maintaining it, despite my bout of vertigo in November.

2016 gave us some great moments and some sobering ones. On the international scene, markets rose and fell and proved as unpredictable as ever. We celebrated the Summer Olympics in Rio and worried about Zika. President Obama went to Cuba and NASA's Juno went to Jupiter. When some countries achieved peace, some endured prolonged war. Leaders were impeached, revolts gained ground and the UK left the EU. Refugees searched for safety; some found it, others were turned away. Terrorists attacked and ISIS recruited more extremists. Maybe most profoundly, Pope Francis declared 2016 the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy. Don't you find it interesting that amidst the year of extremes, the world was called to be forgiving, to show compassion and embrace mercy?

On the home-front, we saw killer clowns and tragic shootings ALL OVER social media. The Cubs won the World Series and we captured more gold medals. Sadly, a dizzying number of beloved celebrities left this earth, but never our hearts. The first woman presidential nominee was selected by the Democratic Party but the first billionaire won the election and the Oval Office. We got Stranger Things and This is Us and (SQUEALING) the return of Gilmore Girls. We got the Mannequin Challenge and Pokemon Go, self-driving cars and phones that caught on fire. Bomber jackets and bodysuits (WHAT-WHY?!?), bottle-flipping and "Damn Daniel." And these are just a few of the highlights and lowlights.

What a year. But what really became evident to me, through conversations and online observations, is the emergence of a culture: a culture of criticism. We're judgy and negative and point lots of fingers. Our opinions and comments have taken on an unprecedented harshness and it doesn't seem to matter which side we're on, there's righteous indignation EVERYWHERE! I say "we" because I am guilty too. (And if you're saying "not me" right now, you may need to look a little deeper. Maybe.) It's hard not to get wrapped up in the negativity when Facebook and Google target our feeds to convince us that everyone shares our worldview. This is serious. How are we going to bolster our kids to not just survive the culture of criticism, but change it?

Be the change...right? It's a simple statement that can be translated in many ways, all of which can lead to progress. So my #oneword for 2017 is OPTIMISM. Defined, it means "hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something." It's not only a mental attitude, or a philosophy, it's a choice. And even more importantly, with the turmoil of the past year and the uncertainty of this one, I think it's our only choice.

Maybe it won't change what happens in the world, but an attitude adjustment can change what happens in your home. That's a worthy endeavor, don't you think? Studies have shown that optimism positively impacts a person's mental and physical well-being. People who score high on optimism assessments have lower levels of stress than their more pessimistic peers. They are less lonely, less depressed, less anxious and get sick less often. Optimism is directly associated with life satisfaction, happiness, psychological and physical well-being. So why don't we see more of it?

Because the internet is evil! Okay, that may be extreme, but the prevalence of trolling, shaming and reckless posting, has never been greater. Somehow, the habit of putting negative statements and energy into the world has outpaced the habit of being kind. But we can change that. And I want to be the change...

I'm not saying that crap doesn't exist or that we shouldn't express ourselves when we're upset by the ugliness in the world. But where we can control the output, we should. I can't promise that my little corner of the cybershere will always be full of sunshine and lollipops because life is a mix, and an honest portrayal of life, should be also. But I can choose to feed the world with small doses of optimism, avoid the unnecessary spewing of criticism and limit the amount of negativity that I view. I will choose to see the hope in the midst of the inevitable ick and I will show my kids how to see it too.

So as you enter the new year, list of resolutions set in ink, I hope you find your #oneword and that it has the power to spread love and hope and joy. We get one shot at this life, let's make our legacy a positive one.

Happy New Year, friends!

Love,

{J}