Archive for the ‘kids’ Category

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”~ Maya Angelou

This famous saying is one of those truisms that seems well said when we hear them as young people, yet sinks in deeper and deeper the older we get, the more we realize the profound truth.

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Today marked a certain milestone.

My youngest son turned thirteen. He boldly crossed the threshold to teenager. To commemorate, I gifted him his grandfather’s razor. Though he isn’t shaving yet, he soon will be. The razor is good quality and with continued care will last him for years. I know the gift hit the spot because he examined the razor minutely, popped open the lid and looked inside. He had to plug it in and turn it on. As he navigates these wild waters of his teenage years, I want him to feel supported and to feel loved.

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I’m glad he liked his gift, and I’ll freely admit I’m relieved he’s not using the razor, yet. He might be jumping with giddy glee from milestone to milestone, but, poor mama back here needs to sit down a minute and get her breath. We’re at the stage now where his childhood is hurtling by so fast it’s giving me whiplash.

Today also happened to mark another important milestone.

It was the day my beloved “adopted grandfather” Bruce left Toastmasters. He retired after having been in the speakers’ association for twenty-six years, much to the chagrin of all present, especially me.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t know either of my grandfathers. Both sets of my grandparents lived in England. As a consequence, my entire life, I’ve idolised grandfathers and that patriarchal figure in the family.

In my writing, the grandfather figure always plays a key role. In the series I’m working on at present, the Chronicles of Aden Weaver, the first book starts off with Aden’s conflicted relationship with his ‘Papa Joe.’ It ends in the third book, which I’m writing at present, The Last Tree, with Aden now the grandparent telling his grandchildren a bedtime story.

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My maternal grandparents, Evelyn and Alfred Leonard

To me, that is the penultimate circle of life, when you have the child and the elder present in a story. I may have never met my own grandfathers, however, I can indulge in the experiences I missed out on by vicariously living through my characters, and I must say it is very soothing and healing to do so. I thoroughly recommend it.

Spending time around my “adopted grandfather,” Bruce, has been a real tonic these last few years, also. I’ve enjoyed our friendship. Meeting him at Toastmasters each week has been a hoot.

On that day, nearly four years ago, when I dared try Toastmasters, I went along sceptical and highly self-conscious and absolutely terrified at the idea of tackling my all-time biggest fear, public speaking. I made myself go by assuring myself I didn’t have to join; I was just ‘going to have a look.’

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When I arrived, I saw two silver haired gentleman standing talking outside talking. Bruce shook my hand and welcomed me warmly.

I felt an instant gravitational pull towards this venerable elder. I sat next to him for the rest of the meeting, and Bruce brightly asked questions about me at every opportunity. He said he was 96-years-old, a war veteran. He had recovered to sprightly good health after having both knees replaced at the tender age of 90. I had made a friend.

Needless to say, I joined the club.

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After the nerve-wracked, heart-thumping, knee-knocking experience of delivering my first speech, I walked to the back of the room and Bruce stood there, clapping.

He said, “Congratulations, my dear! You’ve been blooded.”

It was something only a patriarch would say, and I loved him for it.

For the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be guided by him through many of my speech projects. At Bruce’s farewell party today, held not four days out from his 100th birthday, our club said heartfelt goodbyes.

I gave a one minute speech and said, “Everyone asks Bruce, ‘what’s the secret of your longevity?’ It’s not vegetarianism. He makes every single person he meets feel special. For that reason, everyone he meets loves him. Bruce is surrounded by love everywhere he goes. That’s the real secret to his youth.”

Which brings us neatly back to where we started. How will you be remembered? By the way you made people feel.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”~ Malala Yousafzai

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The “tween” morphs before my eyes. This weekend, he celebrates turning thirteen (ominous bells toll somewhere!) Wasn’t he a baby a moment ago?

He’s taking that step over the threshold, from hovering ‘between child and teenager,’ into official teenagedom.

We’ve been feeling the rumblings of the fiery belly within the volcano for a few months now. I’ve referred to my youngest son’s tween years in previous posts, by likening our household to being the wary villagers living on the slopes of an active volcano. Rumbles like meltdowns and unexplained grumpiness accompany bouts of joyous abandon on a daily basis.

The “tween” morphs before my eyes. His second year of intermediate school is much more social and about friendships and social groups. You never let your friends down, so he tells me. He’s spending more time on his phone. I had to request he put his mobile down for the entire drive we took in the car today, so that we could have a conversation.

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The first year at Intermediate school, he spent an hour or so gaming in the evenings, but it was on his computer, mostly playing games like Roblox and Minecraft, which he did for the most part alone.

This year, every night after dinner’s eaten, homework and drum practise are done and all the chores are finished, the youngest son plays Fortnite. There are alternate explosions henceforth, of giddy dances of triumph, and bursts of molten lava bearing anger and frustration down the slopes, either killing or scaring the daylights out of the poor, unsuspecting villagers.

What weaves these explosions of energy together is a lot of enthusiastic boy talk as he and his friends discuss their game. I watch sometimes from the kitchen while I’m making dinner. Their continuous conversation is punctuated with “Bro” “Bruh” “Yo” “Rip” “and “tight.” Every aspect of the previous game and the kills they made has to be discussed before they can start again.

The son does play solo quests sometimes but, they seem very sad affairs. No, Fortnite is all about the squads, and the way the groups of kids get to hang out together in virtual reality and play war games to their hearts’ content.

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In our house, Fortnite is played through the Xbox on the big screen of the tv, and the youngest son can talk to his friends as they play. This sort of enlarged experience is all part of the more hyped up version of himself he is at present. His voice rises in pitch more often, and he sometimes collapses to a bed mortally wounded by something I’ve said. Apparently, I don’t understand where he’s coming from, even though on the other hand I’m ‘the only one he can tell everything to.’ I tell you, it’s turbulent times in the village. We look up at the black smoke wisping from the peak across the sky.

What else is to come?

The “tween” morphs before my eyes.

There’s no change in the tone of voice yet, he can still reach a high note I can only dream of.

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Another thing that hasn’t changed is the sweetness. The innocence is still there, thankfully. I delight in the purity I still see in him.

And, he retains a need to discuss everything with me. I’m a “touchstone” for now. I remember though, with horror, the terrible creature I morphed into at the age of fifteen. I shudder to think of that happening to my youngest son. He has such a beautiful heart. So far, he hasn’t changed from the usual earnest, sensitive spirit he always was.

However, his appearance is slowly dramatically changing. He doesn’t look like my baby anymore.

All of a sudden, he’s sprouted literal inches overnight.

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I swear. I looked at him tonight and he’s taller than he was yesterday! I felt like someone had taken my child away and replaced him with a much bigger version, and I wanted the smaller one back. His face looks different, the cheeks no longer chubby. Can people really grow that fast? I’ve heard it said that the body releases so many growth hormones, that it does more growing in adolescence than at any other time in our life.

The youngest son’s only just started shooting upwards.

Tonight, he and I looked at one another from his new elevation, and he said, “Imagine when I’m looking down on you.” I said, “Let’s not imagine that, yet.”

Did you ever see the play, ‘Stop the world, I want to get off?’ I did, and that’s how I’ve been feeling lately, with my newly minted teen. Any advice would be welcome!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth. ~ Peter Ustinov

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012 (16)What a week! There is this thing kids with special needs do sometimes, which myself and friends who have special kids like to call, “running with Diablo.” It refers to those inexplicable times that come around with cyclical regularity, when our kids go off the rails for a short time.

Overnight, they go from sweet and obliging to fickle and resisting.

I’m not sure what sets Sam-the-man off. Our fifteen-year-old with Downs’ syndrome will periodically become impossible to deal with. What causes it? I’m not sure.

It never lasts more than a few days, yet while it’s here, he can cause merry havoc.

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Sam’s been running with Diablo this week. Yesterday, his teacher rang to say he’s not listening to any of the teachers in class. The day before, the taxi driver had to move him to the back seat, because Sam kept taking his shoes off and putting them in her face as she was driving. On Tuesday, my neighbour came to tell me Sam was in his school uniform lying on the grass verge. We ran down and there he was. He must have gotten off the taxi outside our house, as usual, but instead of walking up the drive to the house, he’d walked along the street and lain face down on the grass verge. Luckily he was unhurt. I thanked my neighbour and brought him inside, thanking our lucky stars as well.

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The rest of the time, Sam’s a model child! He will do everything he’s asked. He knows his daily routines, though he still needs a parent there to keep him on task. He can do everything for himself with guidance. It’s taken a lot of work and patience over the years to get him to this level of independence, but we’re here and so proud of his progress.

Sam’s doing really well in school and in general. He’ll happily sit and do his homework for an hour with his carer supporter in the evening. He’ll do anything he’s asked with a smile on his face that melts your heart.

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Then overnight, Sam is the exact opposite, he won’t do a thing I say, and he won’t go along with a single thing the family is doing. He plonks himself down and refuses to move. It’s like a switch is flipped. I talk to him a lot at these times, to explain why he has to do a thing. If he hears enough that makes sense to him, he’ll cooperate.

Next week, I’m attending another child behaviour workshop run by Sam’s school. A special needs mum needs tools in her kit!

The best tip I ever heard was “Distraction! Distraction! Distraction!” and it’s the parental trick I use with Sam most often.

They say the mental health of someone with Downs’ syndrome is five years younger than their physical age. Therefore, Sam is mentally around ten.

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When his behaviour derails, and he’s sitting on the floor refusing to get up and walk to the taxi, I divert his attention, “Oh, did you see that bird?” “Did I tell you about the thing we’re doing this weekend? Come on, get your shoes on and I’ll tell you.”

And the second best tip would be momentum. Once you’ve got them moving in the direction you want them to go/doing what you want them to do, KEEP GOING, do not stop!

Momentum is your friend.

A friend asked, “How do you cope?” Some days are harder than others.

Sam-the-man tests me sometimes to be more resourceful, and he keeps all of us on our toes. There are times when he’s locked us out of the house, or taken something important, like the remote for the garage or a personal device or car keys, and hidden them.

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We’ve lost many tv remotes and devices over the years that the phenomena even has a name, we call it a “Sammy special.”

The fact is it’s not easy, and as a parent I am tired a lot of the time.

I’m not sure whether his cyclical bad behaviour is a childhood thing he will grow out of or not. I remember my father asked me a couple of Christmases ago, “How much do you think Sam will grow up?” And I said, “I don’t know.” That’s the thing. The future is unknown. We’ll find out when we get there, I guess.

Meantime life is never boring, and I wouldn’t trade Sam for all the money in the world.

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with open eyes. ~ Nehru

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After we first got over the shock of my father’s death last week, we four siblings began to think about writing our eulogies.

I remember the first night, I couldn’t come up with a single word. I had about five scrunched up notes in my bag and nothing but crossed out lines on a pad. By the fourth and last night before the service, I really still only had the bare bones. My elder sister, who speaks for a living in her job gave me a few tips and suddenly, at the eleventh hour, I was able to write my eulogy.

Here’s the speech I gave at the Committal Service for my father last week…

 

Dad, My Hero

 

I’m Yvette, “daughter number three,” and I’m here to fill you in on some of the details of my father’s life, who he was, and how he came to be here.

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Dad was born 5 July, 1932, in Hastings, England, the only and treasured child of Nan and Jim. Nan was a magistrate and County Borough Organiser for the Women’s Voluntary Service, Jim was the manager of the Hastings Power Station.

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At the age of eight, when WWII broke out, Jim was needed in Hastings to run the power station, and dad spent years separated from his parents as he was evacuated to St. Albans.

As a young man, fresh out of school, he went to the University College School of Navigation in Southampton.

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Dad joined the merchant navy in 1949 and worked for them for ten years, working his way up to the rank of 1st Mate, navigator.

During that time, dad met mum. After their first meeting, his mother, Nan, said, “Why don’t you go out with a nice young girl like that?” and dad said, “She’s not my type.” Luckily, Shirley was his type, and they were wed in 1955. They had two daughters, Gina and Jag.

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Dad joined the Union Company in 1961. When he and mum decided to emigrate, he brought a new ship called the Nakuta out to New Zealand, in 1962. Mum followed with my sisters a year later.

My brother, Alan and I were born here in New Zealand.

Dad couldn’t leave mum alone in a strange country with young children so he left the sea in 1964. In 1966, he joined the NZ Post, working his way up to the position of senior supervisor.

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After nearly 30 years, dad finally retired to his beloved Tairua, living full time in the house he had built with the help of his family, which was his pride and joy. Dad lived here for twenty plus years and would say, “This is all the view I get to look at each day!”

Looking back, I realize how fortunate we were to have such a wonderful father. He was attentive, caring, disciplined, loyal, hard-working, kind, generous and good. He created a spirit in us, a fellowship of strength.

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Growing up, I felt secure and stable, because dad gave us that foundation, and I’ll always be grateful for that. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, and I learnt a lot from his example.

Dad was neither racist nor sexist. He believed all people are equal.

Perhaps because he’d been raised by such an extraordinary woman, he had a reverence for women. The only woman my father looked at was my mother. He didn’t look at women as objects of desire; he treated them as people worthy of respect and admiration.

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I never had the sense that dad expected any less of his daughters than he did of his son. He always said to me, Girls can do anything! And he wasn’t just paying lip service to the ideal. He believed it, therefore so did I.

At the age of seven, I had a formative experience with my father, which I’ve never told anyone until today. It was something special between him and me.

One day, dad took me for a drive. He said there’s something very important we need to do. We drove up to a car yard and dad said, “I need your help. We need to buy the family a new car and I want you to help me decide which car we should buy.”

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I took this very seriously because my father was a man of his word.

I walked around the cars. One by one, I looked inside and out, studied the angles. I was seven, I knew nothing about cars. Yet, dad never gave a word of advice or questioned me, he let me continue to prattle about how this car was too small, and this wouldn’t work as it had only two doors and listened carefully to my reasoning.

Eventually, I chose a ghastly green coloured Milford Marina. Dad said, “Good choice.” And he came back five minutes later with the deeds and the keys. It turned out, he’d been to the car yard the week before and bought it, but I didn’t find that out till later.

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All I knew was, I’d been empowered to believe in my own decision making, in my self-belief, my ability to think.

Thank you, dad, for your stellar example, for your open-minded leadership of this family, for your loyal love, your unwavering support. You were steadfast, ever present and dependable. You were our rock, and in my heart you ever will be.

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When you died, a blanket of cloud covered the mountain behind your house. It seemed fitting. The head of our family was gone and the landscape reflected the sad passing.

Thank you for everything.

I love you.

I’ll miss you, dad my hero.

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Sometimes it’s better to light a flame thrower than curse the darkness. ~ Terry Pratchett

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I think when you have kids at the age of fifteen and twelve. you’re daily reminded by the sheer size of your children that the days of raising them are nearly over. At this stage, every milestone, every Christmas and New Year’s, has a slight touch of pathos, and there is the ever present awareness of appreciating their last days of childhood, their last carefree days of their youth.

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The six weeks the boys have off from school every summer has been one of the parts of parenting I’ve relished over the years. Never more so than now.

Of course, for a writer, who works from home, it is also a lot noisier, and it is more chaotic and harder to concentrate having the kids underfoot, yet, it’s an undeniable opportunity to spend time and bond together.

I would never allow myself to take that sort of time off writing usually, but because the kids need shepherding, help, driving about, as well as to be fed and watered during the holidays, I say, ‘it’s okay, I must.’ I end up taking the breaks with them.

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That’s no mean feat, because it takes a lot to stop me. I’m like a speeding locomotive. I get so much done during the year that when the festive season approaches, I’ll typically keep writing right up to Christmas Eve. This last Christmas, I stayed at my desk until 11.30 p.m. on the 24th before I finally conceded and closed the file on the work-in-progress, The Last Tree, and put the computer away.

When I finally do go on holiday, I like to go off the grid. I don’t take any devices with me, not even a phone. I think time away from the internet is very important for the creative soul, to replenish itself in nature and natural things.

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The kids and I, along with my eldest son spent the festive break with family at dad’s place, from Christmas to after New Year’s, for days of sun, sand and surf.

Burying children repeatedly in the sand

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hanging out together

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climbing mountains…

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…and more eating together.

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Once the kids and I returned to the city, we spent a day at the beach, a couple of days shopping for gadgets and supplies, a picnic with the family, friends coming over, dinner out, as well as a day trip to the fun fair.

It’s two weeks into the New Year and I still haven’t returned to work fully. It’s lovely to let go of the reigns, to take the foot off the accelerator for a few weeks, and remember what it is to have no agenda apart from having fun and connecting with the family, with no jobs to do other than to keep the food coming!

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We’re nearing the end of the kids’ long break, though. There are only one and a half weeks left. Thoughts turn towards preparation for school: stationary, uniforms, shoes, and of course, paying the various fees. But, there will be one or two more “play dates” for the boys and most likely, a few swims first.

All in all, our break has covered the bases, and I have to say, I like the feeling of 2018. Heading into the year of the Earth Dog, despite everything going on in the world, I feel a tentative optimism.

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I’m reminded of a great one of my dear grandmother’s invocations, once said to my sister and me and never forgotten.

One day when Gran was struggling with her health issues, she said to us, ‘let us go forward with a confident sense of anticipation.’ That quaint saying or “Nanism,” as I once coined my grandmother’s little repeated phrases, has become a favourite of ours, and it encapsulates my sense of the year ahead.

What’s your sense of 2018? Can you move forward with a confident sense of anticipation? 

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Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Remember there are more aspects to good health than the physical body, work just as hard on finding your mental, emotional and spiritual happiness too. ~ Holly Butcher

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The fourth day of the year and 2018 is already off to a promising start. The boys and I have just returned from a family Christmas and New Year holiday visit to Grandpa.

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We opened the boys’ presents at home on the 25th before driving down to the Coromandel Peninsula. We arrived before lunchtime, joining a large number of the family, who had travelled from far and wide to spend Christmas day at the seaside. The feast was divine: a first course of turkey, roast lamb, baked ham, roast potatoes and vegetables, green salad, fresh peas, and vegan nut dishes. Dessert was pavlova, fruit salad, chocolate éclairs, and I had iced the traditional fruit cake which the boys and I made with a rich brandy butter icing.

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Being summer, as soon as the dishes were done and the kitchen cleaned, the family headed for the beach. We were so hot and full and tired by that point; the only alternative would have been sleeping! Instead we were refreshed and swam about like fish for the afternoon before going back to the house for a glorious dinner of Christmas leftovers. It was lovely.

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Towards evening on Boxing Day, my father pointed out that various tips on the outlying island were tipped with bright orange light, an effect he’d not seen before in more than fifty years. I noted that near the island rising from the ocean was a “grandma rainbow,” or small rainbow. I said hi and a few words quietly to my mother and wished her a Merry Christmas.

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We spent the week in between Christmas and the 31st relaxing. Each day, we’d meet down at grandpa’s favourite café for lunch, before going to the beach for a swim and play in the waves. In the afternoons, we shared the job of creating big meals for more than a dozen people. In between meals were ice creams, hot chips, cold beers, and trips to see the Xmas lights, cards, sandcastles, playgrounds, kayaking, body surfing, and walking.

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There were many special moments throughout the week, like burying the youngest son in the sand. The boys had electric fly zappers and spent hours hunting down and killing wasps and mosquitoes, which was hilarious. One of my nephews and his wife brought their gorgeous six month old baby to visit. The boys and I walked to the top of the mountain behind my father’s house. From the peak, we could see pohutakawa in bloom, “New Zealand’s Christmas Tree,” which makes any landscape look more beautiful.

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On New Year’s Eve, there was a big fireworks display. The kids stayed up late and they were so excited. Most of the adults were tired and having difficulty staying awake, while the kids were bouncing off the walls.

The whole evening went smoothly despite losing my son Sam-the-man, a fifteen-year-old with Down’s syndrome at about 10.30 p.m. We discovered Sam was missing, and we spilled out of the house in all directions with torches to look for him. Luckily he hadn’t gone far. I found Sam about five minutes later, sitting with a group of neighbours watching some domestic fireworks being let off in the reserve below Grandpa’s house.

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A few minutes before the countdown at midnight, the kids and I walked together with our family to the lookout point. From there, we had a grand view of the harbour. At midnight a firework display was set off from a barge on the water, exploding in the air above the amphitheatre of the harbour and mountains and in the sky above us.

As we walked back to the house, my nephew said, ‘Isn’t it amazing to think that all of us are here tonight because of Grandpa.’ Yes, it is wonderful.

A friend’s daughter coined the term, “Thankmas,” as a way of making Christmas also a celebration of gratitude. Our Thankmas was the gratitude our family felt to be celebrating another festive season with Grandpa. We came so close to losing dad to double pneumonia in 2017, that to be together again for another precious holiday was a gift to be thankful for. Happy Thankmas!

What are you grateful for as you start the New Year?

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Talk to you later.

Happy New Year!

Yvette K. Carol

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Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go. ~ Hesse

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Any book that helps a child to form the habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. ~ Maya Angelou

When I was small, our father used to read us a bedtime story every night. My brother and I would lie in our beds after all the bedtime rituals had been done. We’d yell, “Ready!” and dad would come down to sit in our room and read us the next precious pages in whatever book we were reading. He read us the classics, Wind in the Willows, The Water Babies, The Jungle Book, Treasure Island, and Robinson Crusoe. We grew up with a love for stories.

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It is as writer, Sage Cohen said, that we ‘come into this world hard-wired for the repetition of sound, rhythm and pattern in language. Before we can even speak, we delight in recognizing our own experience and learning about those unlike ours through the stories we are told.’ There is a primordial response of satisfaction to hear a good story, and for the writer it is the same joy to write one.

When you start out as a book lover who turns into a children’s writer you are deeply connected to the meaning and purpose of fiction. Michael Morpurgo said, ‘It’s not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children.’ We write because that love still lives and resonates inside us. Writers'_Week_Kate_de_Goldi_Adelaide_Festival_medium

We can still remember the special hushed feeling, like we had entered a cathedral, which we had as a young person every time we opened a book and stepped inside another world. We can still remember some of the tales and how we felt.

As author, Kate de Goldi once said, ‘We still remember readings that acted like transformations’.

I took a couple of writing for children courses with Kate de Goldi. I was struck when she said that she ‘never writes about or for children. I write for the once and always child in myself.’

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I related to that idea and I let rip, writing what the wild little girl inside wanted to say.

The danger for me, as an introvert, is that I can go far into my own world and lose contact with people. It’s easy to become distanced from the reading audience.

Yesterday, I was pried out of my bunker by well-meaning friends and forced to go to a Christmas party. I trooped along with an eye on the clock. Yet, the most extraordinary thing happened. I had the experience of meeting my first “fan.” Blake is the 8-year-old grandson of a friend. He happens to be a voracious reader, bless his soul, who ‘devours books’ as his grandmother put it.

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Blake had read my first book, The Or’in of Tane Mahuta, and had been waiting for the sequel. When I gave him The Sasori Empire, he carried it with both hands, staring all the while at the cover. He walked straight to a chair, sat down and started reading. When I left the party two hours later, Blake was still reading.

I could have wept. This experience was revelatory for me. I saw with my own eyes, a child who loves to read, diving headfirst into my world. A child who was engrossed in my story.

This simple situation took me out of my “shoes” as the author and put me into the shoes of the “reader.” I felt the responsibility to do justice to the world I’ve created, and to honour the needs of the reader, to deliver the best story I can.

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It had the singular effect of realigning me with my writer’s oath. I was reminded that once one has taken the reader on a journey, the responsible author ushers them safely home to a satisfactory conclusion. I recalled the pinkie swear to resolve all the questions and storylines raised.

Seeing that precious beautiful young reader deep into his book, (my book!), reminded me that my pen is a direct conduit to young readers’ hearts and minds. I have a duty to him and to all young readers to do the best I can. These years of reading literature will be some of the best and most exhilarating of their lives. I have to raise my game to be worthy of the challenge.

What a gift. And, just in time for Christmas.

That’s the New Year’s resolution sorted! Have you ever had a situation which made you remember your reader?

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Talk to you later.

Happy Holidays!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.’ ~ E.B.White

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I have talked about my homemade festive cards in previous posts, however, since there have been lots of new subscribers to this blog in 2017, in the spirit of the season, I’d like to welcome everyone aboard and share the idea again.

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I make a festive card featuring my kids each year. The tradition began with the birth of my middle child, Samuel in 2002, and continued when the youngest was born three years later, featuring both the youngest boys on the cover.

In one little festive-themed image, I could instantly update friends and family about the kids’ progress, and using cards recycled from the year before. It was a win-win situation. The homemade card is easy, super cheap being made out of mostly recycled materials, and most importantly, it’s fun to do.

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Every year, towards the end of November, I make my kids sit and pose for the Xmas photo. There’s always a lot of moaning and groaning. But, eventually they cooperate, and we always get a good picture. Sometimes they help with the crafting of the cards, yet even if they don’t, that really is the fun part, crafting the end result.

So, if you’d like to start a new family tradition and try making the card yourself, here’s the process:

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Start by taking your chosen photo and reducing the size to fit your choice of card size. I like to do miniatures so the pictures are small and dinky. I am able to get eight miniatures onto an A4 page. Once you’ve set them out on the page the way you want it print as many pages as needed. I usually limit it to sixteen cards in total, as they do take a bit of time and one has to divide one’s time between a lot of activities at Christmas.

Next, cut out the pictures.

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I make templates for the size of the card and the layer of decorative paper in between, and the photo, so a bit of the decorative paper and a border of the card itself will show around the image, in other words, each is progressively larger. Using a template keeps things uniform and pleasing to the eye, and saves time each year.

For the cardboard, I buy cheap bulk packs of old Christmas cards from charity shops. Sometimes, I save the cards we’ve received from the year before and recycle them by pasting white paper over the writing inside.

Either way, cut out sixteen pieces of cardboard to the size of the first template.

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Cut out sixteen pieces of festive themed paper, to the next size template.

Glue the paper onto the front of the card. Don’t worry about whether the patterns match or if you’ve got the layers running in different directions. This is art. Be funky and wild and have fun with it. Go crazy, man!

Then, trim your photo to the size of the picture template.

Choose your bling. I use a type of synthetic crafting fibre which my mother bought for me at a crafting fair many moons ago, which forms a sheet of shimmery stuff. With names like Cotton Candy and Lemon Sparkle you can’t go wrong. I take a clump of that, and iron it flat, then I cut the sheet into small strips or rectangles to add a touch of shimmer. You could also cut up cellophane or tinsel. Alternatively, you could use good old glitter.

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Paste your family photo on top of this background decorative paper, trapping the synthetic fiber, tinsel or cellophane in between.

Decorate! Let ‘er rip and have fun embellishing the fronts of the cards. Sometimes I use glitter, beads and doodads. But, this year, I just added stickers, using up all the kids’ festive themed stickers. Double bonus!

Write a personal message inside each card and send them snail mail to friends and family.

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Fifteen years later and the satisfaction hasn’t waned. I’ve just mailed fourteen handmade cards to friends and family and it feels lovely.

I always make sure there are two cards left over, one for me, as a keepsake, and one “spare.” The funny thing is, every year without fail, I get asked by a random person whether they could receive one of our cards, and I say, ‘yes, I happen to have one left over.’ The spare always finds a home! Last year, the spare went to Paeroa, New Zealand, and this year, it went to Istanbul, Turkey!

We get a terrific response to our cards. Let us know if you do, too!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love. ~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

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There is nothing quite like the smell of an extra spicy fruit cake baking in the oven, however, the Queen of them all is the old English style Christmas Cake. In essence, it’s a deeply rich fruit mixture heavy on the fruit and steeped in rum or brandy. Thick and dense, it bakes for up to four hours on a low heat, which is a nice long time for the smell to permeate the house. We love it.

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I come from a family of British immigrants to New Zealand, and despite the fact we have summer in the festive season, my parents continued the tradition of the “Christmas Cake.” I have raised my boys with our own version of the family tradition. At the end of November, my kids and I don our aprons and head into the kitchen for the labour of love.

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I think the secret to a good result is in soaking the fruit in orange juice and rum or brandy overnight. In the old English style, the ratio of dried fruit to flour is about four to one. Typically, there will be raisins, currants, sultanas and chopped dates. Most recipes call for glace cherries and crystallised ginger, but, as I’m not fond of these ingredients, I like to add chopped dried apricots and figs and extra blanched almonds.

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This year, my boys and I came up with a fun idea for a crafty gift. We only used half the batter for the traditional rectangular cake, which will be iced closer to Christmas with brandy butter icing.

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The other half of the batter, we fashioned into rough balls and baked in muffin tins. In this form, they take half the time, roughly two to two and a half hours at a low heat. They form a nice firm ball. Once cool, we dusted them lightly with sifted icing sugar.

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We wrapped the individual balls in baking paper, making neat little parcels with cotton gift ties.

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I had been collecting gift boxes and tins from the thrift stores the last few weeks. We wrapped the paper parcels in cellophane wrap to ensure they will stay fresh as long as possible and divided the balls between the tins and boxes.

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We wrote a personalised message on a gift tag inside each lid.

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We tied a ribbon on each box and there you have it, our Christmas Cake Balls as a gift you can make with your kids and give away at this year.

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Do you make your own gifts or have your own crafting traditions at this time of year? If so, let us know!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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It is never too late to start enjoying a happy childhood. ~ Joy Cowley

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Some time ago, friend and writer, Jenny Hansen put me on to a great new blog site called, ‘Blunt Moms,’ written by a happy collective of mommas telling it like it is.

The first post I read was by author, Anne Sawan, ‘Moms of boys, you are my people.’ Of course, this got my attention as I have three sons.

The post was so hilarious I split my jeans laughing. I subscribed the same day.

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Anne Sawan wrote of discovering her boys running around on their icy roof in winter, ‘inches away from slipping off and cracking their skulls,’ and how she had to have ‘a large glass of red wine’ that night to get over the experience.

I laughed in the grip of my own painful memories. My three sons have made my hair go grey which is why I have to dye it now, I’m sure! I look back and shudder! Like the time, Sam decided to take his plastic tricycle for a ride down the middle of our road at the age of three. He escaped our property on his trike, lifted his feet and whizzed down the middle of the street, with me running behind shouting, “Stop! Stop! Come back!”

Sam rode through a T-junction and kept pedalling into oncoming traffic as if his little life depended on it. I was screaming and running, braced for the impact, which fortunately never came. I managed to catch up with him before the cars reached us. His guardian angels must take home plenty of overtime pay, let me tell you.

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‘Boys are just a different breed from girls,’ wrote Sawan.

I couldn’t agree more.

My sister’s darling daughter used to present herself to her mother each evening at six o’clock exactly, so the legend goes, and say, “I’m ready for bed, mama.” How I envied my sister! My boys would still be strangling each other somewhere, with one or the other moments away from an elbow in the eye, getting somehow mortally injured and screeching with pain. The need for me to dash them to A&E remained an ever present threat always hanging in the air. Or they’d be trying the old can’t-hear-you routine, making me repeat myself a dozen times. Oh, yes, boys are different, all right.

What goes on in a household of boys?

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A lot of yelling goes on in a household of boys.

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A lot of dressing up.

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A lot of play-fighting.

What else goes on in a household of boys?

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There are birthday parties that would put adult all-night ravers to shame.

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There are more play fights.

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There are suspicious silences.

What else goes on in a household of boys?

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A lot of wild air guitar.

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A lot more spontaneous play-fighting.

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A lot of spontaneous posturing.

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Did I mention the singing? They sing a lot as well.

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Then, you wake up one day, and suddenly, the boys start growing in great dashes for the ceiling. You’ve reached the dreaded milestone, the teenage years, when things get really interesting. Incredibly, they become even louder.

They start traversing an emotional rollercoaster.

My youngest two are fifteen and twelve now, and sometimes they come home like black thunder clouds. I’m left wondering where my darling kids have gone. At present, my teen is having non-compliant days, which we’re putting down to the tiredness pre-Christmas, and my tween is having flare-ups of angst-ridden stroppiness, which we’re putting down to hormones. These days we get to see a lot of over excited noises, or dark looks and grouchy faces. It’s a vaguely scary rollercoaster up in here.

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Nevertheless, once the storm blows over, they come straight back to being loving and helpful again. It is a noisy, unpredictable, rambunctious form of chaos living with sons, and yet, I am here to report; it is possible to live harmoniously with them.

Besides in the words of Anne Sawan, in the end, “we laugh knowing our boys are going to be marrying your girls, and one day, if they’re lucky, they may just have little boys of their own.”

That’s called karma, folks!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘Raising children is one of the most significant things that a person can do. It matters a tremendous amount, and women who choose to do it should be held in high esteem. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was a token of great respect for a man to address an older woman as “mother.” That might be a good thing to bring back.’ ~ Paul Rosenberg

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