Archive for the ‘kids’ Category

Every year around this time I have two mammoth jobs that need to be done. My sons and I bake the massive Christmas Cake, which is a rich fruit cake to feed about sixty-four. We also do the photoshoot of my two young victims sons, whom I make dress up in festive gear at the start of December. Then I pick the best photo from the shoot and make our Christmas card for friends and family. We did the photoshoot this weekend. The boys get a bit grumpy about it these days, which I think is quite cute. I had fun making the cards all day. It’s creative, it’s fun and it involves glitter. What more do you need to know?

When I first started this blog, my middle son – who was born with Down Syndrome – featured by himself on the card. Three years later, his little brother came along and the pair got to feature on the next family card and so it has gone on.

Here is how you can make your family greeting card for next-to-nothing.

Once you have your photo, reduce it to a small size. Figure out how many people you are making cards for. Print out the photos on regular A4 paper and cut them out.

Take cheap Christmas cards (I bought ours from the thrift store) and cut them down in size. I use the same “guides” for the layers which I made myself out of cardboard, so they are all the same dimensions. Start with a guide for the size of the card. On Christmas Day each year, I save the interesting pieces of wrapping paper and iron them towards the following year’s cards. Make a guide for the interesting saved paper, or any fun paper you like, as your next layer. It must be smaller than the card and larger than the photo.

Now you have the items you need for your cards: a stack of cut-down cards (preserving the message inside if possible), the rectangles of saved wrapping paper, and a stack of your cut-out photos.

My next step is to cut little flags of “Angelina Hot Fix” which is a synthetic product made by Funky Fibres here in NZ. I’m sure you could find a similar product where you are. The fibres come in different funky colours. You spread a handful between baking paper then iron on a low heat until the fibres fuse, making a thin sheet of sparkly material. I cut out small rectangles of Hot Fix, one for each of my cards.

Begin construction by gluing the saved wrapping paper to the card, at the same time trapping a wedge of Hot Fix in between so that one end extends.

Then glue the photo on the top.

*Tip: dry and flatten the cards after you apply each layer; I put them between chopping boards and pile weights on top.

The best part is adding the embellishments! It is time to decorate the front of each card with glitter and crystals and stickers to your heart’s delight.

Inside each card, I include a surprise, usually gift tags, or I also have a set of miniature antique postcards which I bought in a thrift store once, and I’ll include a couple of those with each one. Match your card as closely as possible to the size of the envelope. It looks better that way. Write a special message inside each card and post it to family and friends.
It’s homemade. It’s personal. It’s crafty fun. What’s not to love?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat. ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder


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When traumatic events happen, you deal with them as best you can. Times goes on. You assume the event is safely in the past. Then, you enter a situation that is similar to the traumatic event and have a panic attack. This is what happened to me this week, and it took me by surprise.
In some cases, life-changing experiences can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a mental illness triggered by peak levels of distress. It can be treated and brought under control with help from a doctor, therapy, and professional guidance. A good friend lived through the big earthquake that rocked Christchurch in 2011. Diagnosed with PTSD, she suffers recurrent nightmares and over-reacts when she hears loud noises.

In my case, what I went through this week was not PTSD but a flashback. A flashback is when you feel drawn back into the traumatic experience as if it is happening all over again.
This week, the youngest son was scheduled for an adenectomy and to have grommets inserted. Surgery is a last resort in my book. But in my son’s case, the specialist believed that his oversized adenoids were causing the loss of hearing in his left ear and inability to breathe through his nose. So it had to be done.
We sat in the hospital waiting room and worked on our crossword, chatting and laughing.
A nurse said, “We’re ready for you now. Follow me.” We followed her along the winding corridors through a pair of heavy blue doors. As the nurse and my son stepped aside, I got my first sight of the room. I took in the surgeons, the anesthetists, the nurses, all in masks and gowns, the skinny operating table, the machines, and the lights. My stomach immediately dropped sickeningly. My skin prickled with goosebumps, and my heart was pounding. I was freaking out. But I couldn’t show it. My son needed me, and I had to be strong for him.

It was scarily like that other time, in August 2010, when he was five years old, and we followed a nurse into a stark white operating theatre. I was straight back there. No time had elapsed in between. In 2010, I looked at my little boy, and I looked at that operating table and felt as if I would throw up with fear, knowing my baby was about to undergo a heart bypass and open-heart surgery.

However, as a parent, you are the captain of the ship. Captains don’t get to freak out. Your job is to stay at the helm until the bitter end.

I had to be calm that day in 2010 and smile for my son. I murmured, “You’re okay, mama loves you,” when he fought the gas mask, and the doctors made me lie on him until the anesthetic took effect and he went limp beneath me.

On Tuesday morning this week, I walked into that operating room, took one glimpse, and stepped back ten years to the scariest time of my life. On Tuesday, my son was only undergoing a minor medical procedure. Yet, I was staring into the white light and hearing angels as if his life was on the line.

As a mature adult today, I have lots of tools to help me weather the storms of life. Whenever something stressful happens, I calm down with meditation, affirmations, yoga, and breathing techniques. But for the private panic attack, I suffered in that hospital room this week, none of my tools helped. I was physically reliving the helpless terror I felt in that other theatre room. According to Rothschild, ‘A flashback can mimic the real thing because it provokes a similar level of stress in the body. The same hormones course through your veins as did at the time of the actual trauma, setting your heart pounding and preparing your muscles and other body systems to react as they did at the time.’

That describes my panic attack perfectly. I stayed with my son until he had fallen unconscious. In the waiting room, I did the only thing I could do. I rang my family and talked to people who cared, and it helped so much.

*According to the site, Trauma Recovery, here are some ideas for managing the situation if you get stuck in a flashback:
NAME the experience as a flashback (example- this is a memory, NOT a recurrence of the actual event)
Use LANGUAGE that categorizes the flashbacks as a “memory” (example- I was attacked, rather than I am being attacked)
Use the SENSES to GROUND self in your CURRENT environment:
Name what you see, feel, hear, smell, etc.
Rub hands together
Touch, feel the chair that is supporting you
Wiggle your toes
Favourite colour- find three things in the room that are “blue”
Name the date, month, year, season
Count backward from 100
Use an object as a grounding tool
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I’ve kept a note of these points in case any of my loved ones need escorting into theatre in the future.
Have you ever suffered a private panic attack or a flashback? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating
Yvette Carol
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“I have laid my son on an OR table and kissed him as he fell asleep. I have handed him to a surgeon knowing they would stop his heart and prayed it would beat again. I am a Heart mum.” ~ Suzanne White

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I’ve finished reading my twelfth novel for 2021, The Diamond Brothers in Two of Diamonds, by Anthony Horowitz. He wrote the book for World Book Day 2013. World Book Day and World Book Night are creative initiatives designed by all those in the literary industry on both sides of the fence in the UK and Ireland. They run the events annually in both countries to encourage people of all ages to read. Now that’s an idea I can get behind.

The Diamond Brothers are among Anthony Horowitz’s least known characters. The elder Diamond, Tim, tagged as ‘the world’s worst detective,’ makes for an intriguing start. Then I love the twist that it is the kid brother, Nick, who is the protagonist and who is solving all the mysteries. Tim bumbles from one error of judgment to another and has his neck saved repeatedly by his underestimated little brother. The entire premise is kid-centred and a hoot.

Two of Diamonds gives us two stories,The French Confection (2002), and I Know What You Did Last Wednesday (2002) packaged together, with a special cover that “comes to life” when you download the app and hold your phone over it. 

Though I had heard of his name, this was my first time reading an Anthony Horowitz. After reading the line, ‘I like horror stories–but not when they happen to me.’ I knew to expect these stories would be firmly tongue-in-cheek. Here is an author going for the laughs and the fun quotient. ‘It’s not fair. I do my homework. I clean my teeth twice a day. Why does everyone want to kill me?’

The Nick Diamond character is relatable and lovable. How many of us have had the experience of being the beleaguered sibling in the family? Here, poor Nick has to look out for his elder brother, Tim, portrayed as thick as a plank. The smarter younger brother Nick watches over the hapless Tim in an easy-going way that endears Nick to us. He is literally “saving the cat” throughout every case. But that’s what the key is to our interest in the characters and the series, is that the elder boy is an oaf while his thirteen-year-old brother saves his bacon on the regular. Kids win. Score! Meanwhile, the eldest is none the wiser and still thinks he know best. Hilarious. It’s a premise to have every child reader groaning with recognition–a deft move by Horowitz.

The enjoyable part is that in Nick’s superior intelligence he can have a little laugh at the elder brother’s expense, which is enough to make any kid titter. ‘Tim said little on the journey. To cheer him up, I’d bought him a Beano comic and perhaps he was having trouble with the long words.’ It makes the child reader feel they are in on the joke, which is a pleasant feeling. The sense of irreverence coming through in the wit and humour is cool, too. ‘The boat was old and smelly. So was the captain.’

Yet Horowitz does not shy away from the tough stuff. The trail of bodies surprised me. It gives his stories an unexpected element. It keeps the reader on their toes. Anthony Horowitz, OBE, is an English author who has been writing fiction all his life. He is best known for his Alex Rider books. He is also the writer and creator of award-winning detective series, Foyle’s War, and more recently event drama Collision. In 2011, he gained a significant feather in his cap, being the first author ever endorsed by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle to write a new Sherlock Holmes novel, titled The House of Silk.

As for Two of Diamonds, where did Horowitz get it right? In the unique premise, the humour, the “in joke” of the siblings, the tone, the mystery aspect. Everyone, young and old, gets sucked in by a mystery. I think the entire thing works and made me an instant fan. Where did Horowitz go wrong? Great premise, intriguing characters but the books are too short, about 80 pages per story, which left me wanting more. Great story, but not enough meat on the bones! Some critics also complained that the mysteries were too easy to figure out. I’m guessing they were adults and as this book is for middle-grade readers, I think it is fine. To be left wanting more is a good sign, right?

My rating: Two and three quarter stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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“I don’t think anything takes the place of reading.” ~ Beverly Cleary

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Do you remember turning 16? I do. Like it was yesterday. It was the summer holidays. My friends and I were hitchhiking up north. We stopped at a cafe. There were four of us hunched around a Formica tabletop with sodas, and I remember saying I didn’t want to turn 16 (the next day). Why not? It was too close to 20! Who could imagine being “so ancient?”

Funny how the vantage point of time changes things.

The youngest of my three sons had his sweet sixteenth birthday two weeks ago. He is more mature at this age than I have ever been. I guess for some people it just comes naturally. The other day, he said, “Do you know what I’m looking forward to the most about growing up?”

I said, “No” although I imagined he’d say beer, driving, or possibly not going to school.

He said, “I’m looking forward to having logical, rational conversations.”

Huh? Jaw drops to floor.

We’re definitely different, he and I. At 16 I fretted about getting old, while my youngest son pines for more adult conversation. How shallow was I? He’s already a better human being than I am. Huzzah!

What did the son want to do for the big milestone birthday? After offering him every adventure option or fun experience available, what he most wanted was ‘a cake and to hang out’ with his friends uninterrupted. Could they hang here? Sure, I said, smiling, although I secretly dreaded it. Idiot Trooper that I am, I let him invite all his mates over regardless.

My friends and I at 16 were rebels. No self-respecting adults wanted to be around us.

To my surprise, my son’s friends were delightful. They had the run of one part of the house the entire day, while I kept food and liquid coming. They played online games, outdoor games, jumped on the trampoline, took photos of themselves, played music, and sang in harmony together the entire day. In the afternoon they demolished an entire chocolate cake and then left en masse to buy supplies from the supermarket, returning an hour later to cook a feast. So lively, so fun, were they, I even missed them in their absence.

In the late afternoon, the girls drifted home. Finally, just “Da boys” remained, playing online games into the evening, still singing in beautiful harmony along with their favourite songs. By the time Da boys left, I felt tired but mostly buoyed by the experience.

They’re mature, considerate kids. Who knew?

That said, they’re still only 16. They still like to play games the same way they did when they were little, but with a lot of music, singing, slang and posturing thrown in. The energy levels when these teen buddies get together can ramp up suddenly, get inexplicably loud for a short period—almost explosive—then peter out again and dip so low the kids appear to retreat behind their phone screens for a while to reboot, becoming temporarily tomb-like and silent, before the shrieks and the laughter escalate and they flare into life, noise and energy all over again. To be around them even for a short period is akin to putting one’s finger into an electric socket, recharging every cell in the body and rendering one’s hair into an instant afro. It’s vitalizing and frenetic at the same time.  

The upshot overall was the day was easy, no drama. As their humble servant, I got to witness snippets of their group dynamic, the teen slang, the weird sounds they make when they’re together, which was fun.

I remember the heady freedom of being 16. You’re old enough to do things but young enough to be silly and not care who is watching.

There was one of son’s friends singing that very Michael Jackson, high-pitched, “Hee hee!” so frequently I nearly asked him to stop (although thankfully, I didn’t). One boy hugged his phone and speaker the entire day, constantly scrolling the music selection – he was clearly in charge of the music selection. There was the occasional daring use of a swear word, but not loud enough for me to discern. I turned a blind eye, regardless. As head provider of refreshments, I stayed in my quarters – the perfect excuse to get some writing done – and let the teens have the house for the day. Some freedom was all they wanted. They often burst outside to play Frisbee, badminton, shoot hoops and jump on the trampoline for hours in the afternoon, which rather impressed me.

I think your child’s friends say a lot about who they are and how they’re doing, and I liked the son’s friends a lot. That made me happy.

At sixteen, I was a fool. At the same age, my son is smarter, more mature, and more emotionally intelligent than I am. Maybe there’s hope for the future, yet.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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There’s nothing wrong with teenagers that reasoning with them won’t aggravate. ~ Anonymous

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*Tips for parents on Stanford Children’s Health, Understanding the Teen Brain

I’ve finished reading my eighth novel for 2021, I Was a Rat! … or The Scarlet Slippers, by Philip Pullman. This book is one of the author’s shorter works for children which ‘for want of a better term’ he called fairy tales. Although Pullman found these shorter stories very enjoyable, he also admits to finding them ‘immensely difficult to write.’ I’m not surprised, as his books are typically dense with meaning. I was a Rat is multi dimensional with astute observation of people at its core. This small book is such a tidy mouthful I finished it in one sitting. Yet the ripples set in motion by the pebble in the pond continued long afterward. It’s one to get you thinking.

A young boy turns up one night on the doorstep of Bob the cobbler and his wife, Joan, a couple who had always longed for a child. The boy, whom they name Roger, insists he used to be a rat. The couple give him shelter and food. Roger is earnest and confused, unsure how to act like a boy, but every day the couple teach him patiently and Roger tries his best to learn. Bob and Joan go to the police, the hospital, and an orphanage, trying to find a place for Roger, but no one wants him. The old couple next try sending the boy to school, but Roger is not quite tame enough and runs afoul of the teacher. One mishap after another befall poor Roger, who by now is becoming infamous in the village and beyond, as a freak.

Along with the unfolding drama, we get regular updates on the front page of the local newspaper, The Daily Scourge, and the articles continue to pop up throughout the book. Though published in 1999, I Was a Rat is an unblinking meditation on the power of the press (social media) today.

As the innocent Roger becomes demonized by the newspapers, and the public opinion builds around the negative imagery provided, Roger becomes popularly regarded as a monster and they line him up for the death penalty. This reveals the ugly side of the press, bearing parallels with today’s social media trolls and the gang-banging that often happens around those poor souls who fall foul of popular opinion and have the misfortune to become blacklisted. Mob mentality is an almost too real a theme. Yet, the book never really gets bogged down in worthiness or making a point. I Was a Rat can still make us laugh and be funny.

As the story unfolds, we get the twist, the key to understanding our boy who says he was a rat. And we realize how imaginative this tale truly is, being in fact, the follow up to a world famous fairy tale, giving us an alternative view. The story premise is not only intelligent, it’s different. One feels as if the author took a leap out of the box and it paid off.

Philip Pullman was born in England in 1946. A teacher most of his life, he is also the author of twenty books for children. He is best known for the trilogy His Dark Materials, beginning with Northern Lights in 1995, continuing with The Subtle Knife in 1997, and concluding with The Amber Spyglass in 2000. His books have earned Pullman the Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children’s Book Award, and they gave him the Whitbread Book of the Year Award (the first time in the prize’s history that they gave it to a children’s book). Pullman was the 2002 recipient of the Eleanor Farjeon Award for children’s literature. And in 2005 he won the Astrid Lindgren Award.

Reading I was a Rat was a curious experience for me. While I wasn’t sure what was happening, the quality of the writing sucked me in and kept me turning the pages, anyway. Packed into the light volume are many levels of meaning. It’s one of those books where it is possible to enjoy it at face value and also plumb the depths for more meaning. I loved the subtle morality. “See, I don’t think it’s what you ARE that matters. I think it’s what you DO.” We learn not to “… go by surface appearances. It was what lay underneath that mattered.” In I Was a Rat, Pullman reminds us that, just as with his wonderful stories, beauty is more than skin deep.

My rating: Three and a half stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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In the pleasures that literature affords us, we may see immediately that tomorrow does not have to be like today. Such immediacy makes free. ~ Charles Hallisey

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I’ve finished reading my sixth novel for 2021, Fifteen by Beverly Cleary. Sad news obviously prompted my choice: the exceptional children’s author, Beverly Cleary, died last week at 104. She still had the look of youth about her. Beverly famously said that whereas other children’s authors sometimes struggled to write from the child’s point of view, she somehow found it easy to recall exactly how it was to be a child. Of her style and genre, Beverly said that as a child growing up she’d wanted to read about other kids like her, ordinary kids and their everyday lives. And because she understood her audience so completely, her stories–about kids like you and me–were incredibly popular with children.

It was the Ramona Quimby books that were the most popular, however I didn’t read Beverly’s stories as a child. I discovered the author because my older sisters, whom I admired and adored, had a small book among the other bigger tomes in their bookcase called Fifteen, by Beverly Cleary. Even as a kid, I thought, how cool to read about a person your age when you are that exact age. So I decided I would save stealing it from the bookshelf until I turned fifteen. And that’s what I did. When I finally turned that magical lovely age, I snuck the slim volume from their shelf. I remember relishing every page. Beverly’s free ability to capture that youthful viewpoint was a gift. She gave me a sweet moment in my youth I’ll always remember.

The book itself especially to me now as an adult reader seems like fast food. You can swallow it in one bite, yet it is so wonderfully delicious. Fifteen is a peek-a-boo window into the 1950s. Published in 1958, it was the era when my parents were young, when girls wore dresses and full skirts to formals or dances, walked to school, and sat in malt shops to drink soda. It’s like entering a time machine to read it now, and something tells me this innocent tale of young love would be a total yawn fest to the modern fifteen-year-old, although possibly still easily consumed by the 9–10-year-old crowds.

The coming-of-age story is about fifteen-year-old Jane Purdy, an average girl with a babysitting job and how she meets the dreamy Stan Crandell, who has a tan, green eyes, brown hair with a dip in it, and a genuine smile. Stan might deliver horsemeat, but he rescues our damsel in distress at the outset and proves himself to be just as nice throughout the story. Jane has never had a boyfriend before. She is the picture of flustered youth. Her awkwardness reaches into the heart of any girl and Beverly renders the angst truthfully and winningly.

While some aspects of Fifteen seem dated now, the themes persist today, underlying this story of a crush, is the story of a young person trying to fit in. Jane looks up to the most popular girl in school and tells a few fibs as she tries to be like her before Jane figures out that Stan likes who she is and wants her to be herself. Aw!

I love that there is this wonderful sense of place in this story. I can clearly remember my fifteen-year-old self feeling as if I were in the Purdy’s comfortable family home or in the quiet house with Jane when she was babysitting and her charge was finally asleep.

An admirable talent, Beverly Cleary was born in McMinnville, Oregon. Her books have earned her many prestigious awards, including the 1984 John Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw. They have published her books in twenty-nine languages and her characters, including Henry Huggins, and Ralph S. Mouse, Ribsy, Socks, as well as Beezus and Ramona Quimby, have delighted generations of children.

They celebrated Beverly Cleary’s one hundredth birthday in 2016, by reissuing three of her books with forewords by Judy Blume, Amy Poehler, and Kate DiCamillo. In 2017, they reissued the Henry Huggins books with forewords by Tony DiTerlizzi, Marla Frazee, Tom Angleberger, Jeff Kinney, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, and Cece Bell.

I love Beverly Cleary’s writing. I think it is because she was a luminary in relating what my writing teacher would call ‘the minutiae’ of family life and social life. She was relatable, her stories truthful, pure. What a legacy she has left the world. Beverly Cleary, you will be missed.

My rating: Five stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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“I don’t think anything takes the place of reading.” ~ Beverly Cleary

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Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to yvettecarol@hotmail.com

I wouldn’t go back to being a teenager for all the money in the world. What a roller coaster. My youngest son is at the tender age of fifteen, when his body’s morphing at a gallop and his view of himself and the world is in constant flux. He’s growing taller every week, he’s either a bundle of energy or catatonic on the couch, and he has to question everything. The emotions rocket from simmering to sky-high in an instant. As a parent, I’m used to ongoing frustration with both my younger boys, and feeling peeved when they haven’t done what I’ve asked, and so on. Now every time a flicker of annoyance crosses my brow, I’ve hurt my teenager’s feelings. We’ve been doing a lot of talking, in consequence.

It’s a minefield, I tell you.

The youngest son is morphing in so many ways it’s hard for me to keep up. Not only is he evolving in ever-increasing height and girth, the tone of his voice and his new dialect of teenage slang keeps changing. He’s altered likewise in his preoccupations. Friends used to call him ‘the dancer’ because whenever he had to wait he would dance on the spot. At home he would break into dance between games. Then he turned fifteen… and stopped dancing.

He disappeared into his phone.

As a drummer, he used to tap a rhythm with his feet constantly. You knew where he was in the house by the sound of his drumming feet. It was like living with a tap dancer. He filled our days with the sound. When he turned fifteen, he stopped tapping.

He started playing more Xbox.

It’s official. The youngest son is going through the teenage ya-ya’s. As an adult, I process life using the pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s rational part, whereas at fifteen, he’s still processing stimuli using the amygdale, the emotional part. The connections between his amygdale and the rational part develop at different rates. He literally is feeling things more than he’s thinking about them.

The rational part of his brain won’t fully develop until after the age of 25, so I have to be patient and be the adult for both of us.

I set rules and limits, and we negotiate the parameters as an ongoing process. He’s expected to do chores and make some of his own meals. He’s on breakfast and lunch, I handle dinner. I feel sorry for the teen angst he’s going through. As a Gemini, when he was little, the boy could talk the hind legs off a donkey. These days he’s tongue-tied. He says he can’t make conversation, he doesn’t know the right thing to say and that he stuffs a conversation up.

He’s painfully self-conscious and self judgemental.

Two weeks ago, the youngest became nervous about going back to school, and the week before first term began, he fretted over distinct possibilities for disaster every night. He ‘wouldn’t know what to say,’ he’d be taller than his height-challenged friends again, (as happened last summer), or he’d have no friends in his classes, and the subjects he’d chosen would be the wrong choices.

Every night I was putting out fires.

Each day his anxieties rise and fall. Yet the glorious thing about kids is they’re indefatigable. Alongside the self doubt, there is an inextinguishable bravado. If I question whether the youngest should walk to school before daybreak, he tells me he’s ‘big and strong.’ If I query whether he should take on more at school, he tells me he’s so far ahead of the other kids in his class; he teaches them the subjects when they get confused, that he’s ‘got it sussed.’ If I worry about him getting home late from school, he rolls his eyes and tells me he knows what he’s doing. No matter what it is, he assures me he has it under control and I should stop worrying.

I’m your mother, dude, I never stop worrying.

I counsel myself that the only things I can do as the parent is:

*To check in with him when he talks, about whether he wants me to find solutions or just listen

*Make him aware of the consequences of his actions and help him link his thinking with the facts

*Remind him of the tough times he’s dreaded and gotten through in the past and that he is resilient enough to get through anything

*Pay attention to him and listen when he talks, even if it’s about the anime shows he’s watching or what happened the last time he played Minecraft or Rocket League.

I need to do all this, while still running the household and writing books. I’m just sayin’.

Have you survived raising teenagers? All tips welcome!

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children. ~ Sam Levinson

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*Tips for parents from Stanford Children’s Health, Understanding the Teen Brain

When I first started this blog, I shared how to make a homemade greeting card at this time of year. The tradition of making my own cards with photos of my youngest boys started with my middle son’s birth. Samuel was born with Down Syndrome in 2002, and featuring him on our card was a way of celebrating his arrival.

Sam’s younger brother came along two years later, and I’ve made these photo cards every year since then. I love the ritual of taking the photo for the card and bringing out all my card-making materials. Crafts are fun! Just seeing my glitter and stickers and the carefully saved paper brings a smile to my face. It’s like being a kid again. Personally I am a fan of homemade looking festive things rather than the store-bought variety.

This year I failed to get my two teenage boys to smile for our greeting card photo, however, it’s still an excellent likeness of them and I made the best of the shot I got. For those who are new to this blog, I will share how we make our family greeting card for next-to-nothing.

Start by organising the kids, the dog, whatever your subject is, and snapping your photo for the card. Then print on regular A4 paper at a dinky size and cut out.

Take cheap Christmas cards (I bought ours from the dollar store) and make them smaller. I use “guides” for the sizes which I made myself out of cardboard, so the layers have the same dimensions.

You have the first two items you need for your card, a stack of cut-down cards (preserving the message inside if possible) and a stack of your cut out photos.

Next is the saved wrapping paper. On Christmas Day each year, I save the interesting pieces of wrapping paper for making the following year’s cards.

At this stage in the card production, I take my saved paper, set the iron on a low heat and iron out the wrinkles. *My tip, iron the paper with the picture side down, in case any ink comes away. Then it doesn’t mar your iron’s surface and it also protects the ink.

Take a second cardboard “guide” that is smaller than the card and larger than the photo. Cut your saved Christmas paper to this size.

Now you have your photos, your cards, and cut-down Christmas paper.

The next step is to cut little flags of “Angelina Hot Fix.” This is a synthetic product made by Funky Fibres here in NZ. I’m sure you could find a similar product where you are. Hot Fix come in different funky colours. You spread a handful between baking paper then iron on a low heat and the fibres fuse, making a thin sheet of sparkly material. I cut out small rectangles of Hot Fix, one for each of my cards.

The first step of constructing the cards entails gluing the Christmas paper to the card, at the same time trapping a wedge of Hot Fix in between so that one end extends like a flag.

*Tip: dry and flatten the cards after you apply each layer; I put them between chopping boards and pile various weights on to press them. The second step is to glue the photo on top.

The third step is the best part—embellishments! Time to decorate the front of the cards with the glitter and ‘gems’ and stickers and doodads to your heart’s delight.

Inside each envelope I like to include a surprise, usually gift tags, or I also have a set of miniature antique postcards which I bought in a thrift store once, and I’ll include a couple of those with each one. Make sure to match your envelope as closely as possible to the size of the card. It looks better that way.

Write personal messages inside your works of art and post away.

What do you think of this year’s greeting card?  

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat. ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

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I’ve finished reading my twelfth novel for 2020, Bill’s New Frock, by Anne Fine. At just 90 pages, the small chapter book is a nice quick read for the middle grade level, yet still thought-provoking. The simple premise of a boy waking up as a girl and spending the day as the opposite gender is rich material. Bill feels out-of-sorts because he is in the wrong body, and through observing with a child’s innocent eyes the differences in the way people treat him, we see ourselves and society as we know it. This is deep stuff. Of her fiction, Anne Fine says, “A lot of my work, even for fairly young readers, raises quite serious social issues.”

It must have struck a chord with readers, because young readers in Leicestershire, England, chose Bill’s New Frock as their favourite title for 2012. They thought it reflected the Olympic values, being inspiration, determination, courage, respect, equality, friendship and excellence. Bill’s New Frock was winner of the Smarties Award (6 – 8 section) in 1990, the Carnegie Medal 1990, the Nottinghamshire Libraries Award 1990, and the Leicestershire Children’s Book Prize in 2012. First printed in 1989, they reprinted Bills New Frock in 2007 and again in 2012. Egmont reissued the popular novel in June 2017 as an Egmont Modern Classic. People still consider this book highly relevant to today’s generation, as the story speaks about gender stereotyping and those who feel they are born in the wrong gender.

The story begins, When Bill Simpson woke up on Monday morning, he found he was a girl. We readers then tag along as Bill must wear a pink frilly dress to school, and we groan in dismay as he slowly wrecks his beautiful dress throughout the course of the day. It adds a subtle layering of metaphor, as hand-in-hand with the stains and damage happening to Bill’s frock, we observe his candid reactions when he discovers the inequities that go along with his sudden change of gender. As a girl, Bill hardly gets into trouble for punching Rohan while Rohan gets told off for kicking Bill. With humour and the child’s view, we look at ourselves anew. It is the age-old requirement of good fiction, to hold up the window and the mirror. We feel Bill’s confusion as he finds even the educational expectations of him have changed. While Bill gets growled at by the teacher for messy work, and the boy sitting beside him whose work is far messier gets praised with the comment ‘well done,’ we readers say ‘unfair’ and sigh with memories of our own. Bill’s New Frock is a gentle traipse through the minefield of socialization without ever being heavy-handed. Child-centered, it never once loses sight of what it is, an amusing children’s story.

I admire Anne Fine’s effortless style. The second Children’s Laureate is an author for children of all ages, with over fifty books to her credit. She has also written for adults to considerable acclaim. As a young woman, having tried various jobs, Fine discovered her talent as a writer by accident. “In 1971 my first daughter Ione was born. Unable to get to the library in a snowstorm to change my library books, in desperation I sat down and started to write a novel. Clearly this was the right job for me, for I have never stopped writing for more than a few weeks since.” Clearly!

Bill’s New Frock is a thoughtfully rendered child-friendly look at gender. A tricky topic handled well.

My rating: Four stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Whatever I’m writing, I always end up with the kind of book I would have loved to read (if only someone else had bothered to write it for me). ~ Anne Fine

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A lot of times as an author it can feel like you are stuck in an endless loop of editing from which you might never escape. And some books take a lot longer than others to complete. The youngest son said last week, “When is this going to be over?” and I felt exactly the same way. After fifteen years of writing and editing on repeat loop, I finally finished my middle-grade trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver. Incredible. I think I was in a state of pure disbelief that I had concluded the journey. Is it over? I kept asking myself at first. I was in a state of shock.

The day I “signed off” on The Or’in of Tane, The Sasori Empire, and The Last Tree to go to the printer, it was like a weight lifted off me. It was done. I had told the story to the best of my ability and edited it to the best of my ability as an Indie Publisher. It was time to release the culmination of years of change and growth as a writer. I couldn’t believe I was done working on the Chronicles. The moment overwhelmed me with emotion. I shed a few tears. Fifteen years of writing in all the spare moments around raising my two youngest sons, cramming the editing into every crevice had borne fruit.

I had finished three books, and I waited less than patiently to receive them. When the boxes of my books arrived by courier, I was so excited.

There is nothing like that moment when you first get to see and hold the real paperback in your hand. Writing the story, following the idea from start through to finish and creating a book is the greatest feeling in the world! As a lifelong reader, I’ve always regarded books with reverence. Now I have created one of those magical things that have given me so much joy. It is bucket list material.

Some things in life are worth waiting for, like the satisfaction of crossing the finish line, releasing your own novels, and the celebration of the book launch. You slave your butt off to complete the course and earn your right to party. The relief! The joy! I’m sure they could have seen my smile in Wellington. The launch was fabulous. Thanks to my friends from Toastmasters, we transformed the hall with flowers and tablecloths and the sparkle of china and glassware. The covers of the books shone like gems and the themed cupcakes looked almost too good to eat!

However, the point-of-sale material I had designed and ordered failed to arrive, the elections and voting clashed with our event which affected our turn-out, and one guest helpfully tried to open a whole box of expensive cupcakes by turning it upside down! But that’s life, and we roll with the punches. The hall looked charming; the atmosphere was spring like and promising. The guests filled the seats, and everyone enjoyed the afternoon, so it was fine.

In the week leading up to the launch I suffered horrible bouts of nerves about giving the oration. Though I had done some research and had an idea for the format of my keynote address, I ran so late with book production and the launch that I ended up with only one day to work on the speech. I thought the presentation would come together easily, but it didn’t, and I panicked. I was still pacing the house at ten o’clock on Friday night – not a good way to be the night before your book launch.

Saturday morning was hectic. I dropped my boys off at their father, went to get a blow wave at the local salon, then I tried to remember how to apply make-up and put my glam on. There were boxes of books, signs, tablecloths, thank you gifts for my helpers and the liquid refreshments to load into the car. There was still the hall to set up. Luckily, when it came time for me to walk on stage and speak, the speech came together. I’ve moved on from writing out and rehearsing my speeches, to trying to strike a 50/50 blend of research and spontaneity. It means potential for failure, so I get more nerves and it’s always a relief when the speeches work. Whew!

We followed my keynote with a lively Q&A session lasting nearly forty minutes, which was cool. I sold three boxes of books and two people asked me about writing and self publishing. Yes! Afterwards, friends took me out for dinner and we toasted the launch with bubbly. It was a very good day.

Now let me shuffle off stage and collapse!

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Sunshine is the best medicine. ~ Unknown

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