Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pennington Elementary School...

In the past two weeks, we have reached out to Elementary Schools in middle Tennessee who have experienced what has been termed "a thousand year flood."

Knowing that there were some children left frightened and confused, we sent copies of The Angry Thunderstorm to the children at Pennington Elementary School along with a letter letting them know that we were thinking about them. We also encouraged them to let their teachers and parents know if they were having difficulty understanding their feelings about what had happened. They received their books today, and this is what one of the teachers had to say...

Dear Carol,

Your books arrived a little while ago … and the story is just wonderful!!! I love your letter you wrote to the students too. What a caring person you are! The children felt so special that “an author” would write to them. Now, they want to “meet you”! You would be an “honored guest” at Pennington … anytime!

As the books arrived, we were having a thunderstorm. I stopped doing my inventory and went to read to my first graders. They sat so intently and listened. They loved hearing your letter and had so many questions to ask about you. We have studied about what an “author” does, so they knew what you did, but they were interested in where you live and about your family. They loved the book! It was so timely to read, as we sat (with shades drawn) during the storm. Their teachers loved it too! You truly touched them. Some who were evacuated in the flood and have had a hard time, had some questions, but seemed to understand that not all storms are destructive and we talked about how they “clean the air” and the other points that you brought out.

Next time it storms, I told them to remember your story. They said that they can’t wait to “check it out” in the fall. I will have the books processed and on display for them when they return to school.

Thank you again. You made my day!!

Your friend,

Susan Beasley
Pennington Elementary

Susan, you and your students at Pennington Elementary are delightful. I would love to visit your school in the Fall and will do everything in my power to make it happen.

To our readers, above is a picture of Pennington Bend. About half of Pennington's students have been greatly affected by this disaster. Some will probably relocate. As Susan puts it, "Their sweet little spirits are amazing, though. Overall, they are doing remarkably well, with all they are coping with. We are so thankful to have them here with us and to share their daily struggles. My concern for them is this summer... when things are not as structured and they have to live elsewhere, or in the neighborhood, where things are still so bad. Their play areas are destroyed with debris and smell horribly with the stench of the flood and mold."

Many had flood insurance, but that does not cover anything but the structure of the home ... not the ductwork, central unit, or the contents. Many of their families worked at the Opryland Hotel. Now, those families have lost their jobs, due to the flood, and that is a great concern.

If you wish to donate to the recovery effort in Tennessee, please call the TEMA Hotline at (866) 586-4483. Any help you can provide is appreciated.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tennessee Needs Our Help...

Last week, Governor Bill Bredesen requested that fifty-five counties in Tennessee be designated disaster areas. As of today, thirty have now been so designated by federal officials. More than 17,000 people have requested assistance from FEMA and more than $4 million has already been approved for individuals.

The people of Tennesee need our help to rebuild their lives in the wake of these floods. If you would like to help, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) has a hotline that will accept calls for donations for Tennessee flood victims. The hotline is known as the Tennessee Emergency Donations Hotline. Its hours of operation are from 8am to 8pm daily. The telphone number is (866)589-4483.

Last week, in less than 48 hours, more than 16 inches of rain fell across areas of central Tennessee--what some have called "a thousand-year rain" that destroyed lives and landmarks. The Cumberland River crested nearly 12 feet above flood stage reaching a depth of almost fifty-two feet.

The force of the water obliterated homes and businesses and washed away more than 8,000 crops within the State of Tennessee.

Families are facing many dangers, including: asbestos, lead paint, raw sewage and chemicals as they begin the clean up effort. The Center for Disease Control states that, in addition to the contamination of food and water supplies, there is also risk of disease from misquitos that now have a large breeding ground.
One Nashville resident likened the clean up effort to being in hell--hot, smelly and both gutwrenching and heartwrenching. Nonetheless, he reported that the people there are smiling. Not a smile from joy or happiness--but rather an appreciation that folks are there to help them restore their lives.

In the past week, there has been so much focus no the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the attempted terror attack in New York City that the plight of our friends in Tennessee has been overshadowed. We are asking our readers to take a few minutes to call the TEMA hotline and make a donation to help some of these families and schools in their effort to recover from these storms and floods. Or, contact the American Red Cross.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Coping In The Aftermath Of The Angriest Storms...

Most of our readers know the inspiration behind The Angry Thunderstorm. The book was written to help children redirect negative thoughts about thunderstorms by providing honest, understandable, and encouraging reasons for a storm's behavior. But, what happens when a child has experienced the angriest of storms like those that hit Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama?

As an author of a book about thunderstorms, I am often asked what response I would provide to a child who has experienced injury or loss in the wake of a storm? This is a valid question... especially since my goal has always been to help children think positively about storms. A frightened, confused and insecure child who has just lived through such a horrific event is not likely to find much positive about the experience to cling to.

Before I answer this question, I want to make it clear that I am not an expert in child development, psychology or meteorology. The only credentials I have on this subject are my own personal and parental experiences and views as an individual who just happened to write a story about an angry storm and a frightened child. While The Angry Thunderstorm helps children to look for the positive things a storm does for Mother Nature, no thunderstorm is benign. According to the Disaster Center, despite the size, all thunderstorms have the potential to produce lightning, hail, flooding and other dangers. More than anything, as an author, my hope is that The Angry Thunderstorm helps children better manage their fears while respecting the nature of a storm.

Children who have witnessed a catastrophic storm event will likely have a long road of healing and recovery ahead that a children's book will not remedy. My best response would be to listen to these children and encourage them to share their experience; acknowledge their fears and concerns; and, reassure them that their feelings are normal. I would try to answer questions honestly in a way that is easy to understand.

I believe that children look to the adults in their lives for reassurance; so, a caregiver's response to the event will significantly impact the child's response. How a caregiver is coping may affect their ability to respond to a child's needs. I would encourage looking to a professional for guidance if I felt that I was not able to provide that comfort or reassurance.

To the children (and adults) who have weathered these terrible storms and are now left to remember loved ones and rebuild lives, please know that my heart and my tears are with you. You will remain in my prayers, my thoughts and my hopes that God will grant the strength you need to move forward.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Commuted Sentence...

Like many Austinites who live in the burbs and work downtown, I have waited several years for Metro Rail to launch in Austin. Lite rail had been an option on several electoral ballots and I was really excited when it finally passed. Like many other supporters, I practiced patience throughout the planning process--even through last year's postponement of the service. Needless to say, I was very excited to be among the first to use Metro Rail when it began its services in mid-March.

For more than twenty years, I have commuted more than twenty-six miles a day [round trip] from home to work. I would try to calculate that in miles and hours for everyone, except that I would probably embarrass myself. Instead, I will save myself the embarrassment by simply admitting to having only subpar math skills. For all the math geniuses out there [I salute you], you can attest that this is a huge amount of:

  • time;
  • miles;
  • gas; and,
  • vehicular wear and tear.

[Not to mention the numerous hand gestures and curses from other drivers trying to get nowhere fast in Austin.]

Austin had mass transit services that were already available [the bus system]. Even though I live close to the Highway 183 Park and Ride, I never took the bus because if I was going to have to sit in traffic anyway, I preferred to be in the comfort of my own vehicle, on my own schedule, without strangers invading my space.

The rail, however, offered a much more appealing ambiance to the commuter experience. The station was built within four miles of my home. The cars were aesthetically pleasing. There was WiFi in case I wanted to work while in transit. There were bike racks if I decided to bike to the station and totally eliminate my carbon footprint [which I plan to do in the near future]. Plus, the tracks were not crowded with cars. I understood that the tracks would be shared by other trains which would mean some occasional delays; but, not nearly as often as I had experienced delays sitting on Mopac.

I wasn't sure if my metamorphosis into a full-fledged Metro Rail commuter would be easy. To begin with, I would no longer have the freedom to jump in my car and go somewhere on a whim. There was the question of how quickly I could reach my children if they became sick at school. Then, there was the concern of inclement weather coupled with the fact that the Downtown Station was a mile away from my office. Nevertheless, I was committed to giving it a try.

The hardest part was adjusting to living on a time table. In order to make my train, I have drop dead times when I have to leave my house and my office. I often cannot have the extra cup of coffee in the morning; and, at 5:30 pm each weekday, my work must be wrapped up because I have to get out of the door to head back to the station.

My husband has really encouraged my desire to make this transition. He has made adjustments to be available for the kids during the day if the need arises. As for the weather, I have purchased a rain pancho that keeps me dry in wet weather. If The Angry Thunderstorm rolls into town, I walk a block and a half and wait for Capital Metro Bus 4 which will take me to the front door of my office. Most days I just walk the mile to and from the station. [Granted, I may alter my opinion on the weather once Summer arrives...]

I can honestly say that I have gained more than I have lost--except for in my waistline. That's right, I have dropped nearly five pounds in three weeks because I have increased my amount of walking by two miles a day. In addition, I:
  • Save approximately $100 per month in gas;
  • Minimize the wear and tear on my car;
  • Use the time on the train to read or relax;
  • Meet new people on board;
  • Experience no road rage;
  • Experience scenery in Austin that I've never seen [the Bluebonnets are beautiful along the track!]; and, best of all...

I knew I had successfully transitioned yesterday when I had to drive to work for the first time since taking the Metro Rail. I had focus groups and knew that I would have to work late. Traffic was normal for Austin--stop and go along Mopac. By the time I got to the office, I was exhausted. I felt that I had been in-carcerated [Did you get that one?] by traffic signals, brakelights and wet roadways. Having sat through the experience again, I can honestly say that I do not miss feeling locked in by traffic. I prefer a "commuted sentence." I'm staying with Metro Rail.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Vacationing...In Farmville!

When I started this blog, I wanted to write about my experiences as a new author and to use it as a medium for our readers to get to know me better. I have had great fun sharing my experiences and writing about the different things that have taken place since we launched The Angry Thunderstorm on April 1st, 2009. There were tradeshows, book signings, author visits, and other events. Needless to say, 2009 was a wonderful, action-packed year. Thanks so much for sharing the experience with us!

Writing a book is one thing. Marketing a book is a whole different story in itself. By late October, I was a little overwhelmed. The Holidays were coming. My husband and children had been very patient while I had lived my dream all year. It was time that I gave some of my time and attention back to them. There were several things that I could take a break from to relax my commitments a bit--Picklebear Corner was one of those things.

The first weekend on my self-imposed break, my darling daughter, Caitlyn, introduced me to Farmville, an application on Facebook. Most often, I visit Facebook only to see what my friends are up to. I seldom post anything--unless it is to The Angry Thunderstorm fan page. I had received a notification that Caitlyn had sent me a gift and that she wanted me to become a neighbor in Farmville. Another opportunity to interact with her--even if it was a virtual opportunity. I accepted her gift and agreed to become her neighbor; then, I was immediately transported to my new little plot of land in Farmville.

Before we go any further, I feel compelled to explain that addiction is something I have always feared. I have never tried drugs. I limit drinking to social settings. Why? The mere thought of something controlling and consuming my every thought scares the daylights out of me. That said, I had no idea what I was in for with Farmville.

I started out with four little squares. I planted strawberries; then, I left my virtual farm. In the real world, strawberries are hard to grow. In Farmville, they aren't--it only takes them four hours to grow after they've been planted. Needless to say, when I checked my crop the next day, my strawberries had already wilted and died. It didn't take too long before I figured out that each form of produce has it's own growth time. So now, I was having to schedule real life around when my Farmville crops were going to peak.

Before too long, I had expanded my crops and began planting different types of produce. I had peppers, pumpkins, strawberries, wheat and rice. That's when I learned that there were certain vegetables like artichokes that earned more Farmville cash. So I began focusing my energy on those vegetables. Each day, those Farmville coins began stacking up. Each day, my Farmville Neighbors sent me nice gifts, i.e., pigs, chickens, cows, turkeys and other little essentials to help my little farm grow. Each day, I watched my stash of Farmville coins grow and grow.

Before long, I had a chicken coop and three dairies. However, my poor little Avatar had no place to live and winter was fast approaching. Where was she going to sleep? With the cows? I set to work to earn a little cottage. This meant, I had to reach a certain experience level and have so much Farmville cash. So, you know what that means? I had to expand my farm and visit and help my friends with their farms as often as possible. Right before Christmas, I earned my cottage. But by then, I had set my sights on a farm house. So what did I do? I expanded my little farm and purchased a tractor, a seeder and a harvester. Now, I could gather my crops faster and earn cash faster so that I could buy my little farm house.

During the Christmas Holidays, I had a wonderful time decorating the cottage and putting gifts under my Farmville tree. With all the gifts my neighbors were sending, that tree grew fast. There was no snow on the ground in Austin, Texas; but, I could have all the snow I wanted in Farmville. While we were waiting on Christmas day to arrive, my daughter and I confided to each other that we were really excited about Christmas Eve. That's when we could open our Farmville gifts that we had received from all our Farmville neighbors--I actually received an alien cow!

My family began making fun of me for my exhuberance for Farmville. What had begun as an innocent activity with my daughter had become...dare I say it? An addiction. The dreaded thing I feared most. I was beginning to spend as much time in Farmville just trying to keep up with my neighbors as I had spent writing my blog and interacting with my readers and fans. Don't laugh. My neighbors were very competitive farmers. Talk about keeping up with the Jonses...

In my quest to break from the pressures of the real world, I jumped head first into the escape of a virtual reality. Farmville offered community, interaction, old friends, gifts and the ability to create your own virtual environment and wealth. In the end, I realized that I have these opportunities in the real world. I am proud to say that I have left the Farmville world behind. It was an interesting and very inexpensive place to vacation; but, I prefer to live in the real world. From now on, when I am contemplating a vacation, I'll just go to Disney World or take a cruise!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Every Husbands Nightmare - The DIY Wife

Ever had back trouble? Lower back pain is the worst; and it doesn’t take much – the slightest move the wrong way can take you out of commission for days. For me, recent lower back issues reinforced a few things:

· I’m not getting any younger;
· My sofa is pretty darn comfortable;
· And daytime television is - well... not very stimulating.

Daytime Television:
There I was, laying on my couch with my new best friends: a heating pad, a pain killer, a muscle relaxer and a steroid. While my new friends took the edge off my discomfort and set about to speed the healing process, nothing could relieve me from the pain of being held hostage by daytime television. I have one word for daytime programming: BORING!!! The Price Is Right, Let’s Make a Deal... Come on. Game shows, soap operas, talk shows. Even the movies on cable were lame. Ellen, Oprah, Tyra – a bunch of fodder on The View. It didn’t take long to get my own “view." Give me something interesting and informative to watch – something that will encourage me to do more things and make my life better. I kept helplessly clicking from one channel to another. Then I found it. Channel 207. The DIY Network.

DIY Network:
Bathtastic, Sweat Equity, House Crashers, Yard Crashers, Disaster House, Kitchen Impossible, Garage Mahal, Renovation Realities (the ugly side of renovation) – all of these are programs that show DIYers... well... DIYing. In one afternoon, I learned:

· How to install a toilet;
· Simple ways to give my home more curb appeal;
· How to determine if a wall is a load-bearing wall;
· Patching Hardwood Floors;
· Tips for installing accent lighting;
· How to use the newest cool tools;
· Installing tile.

And in between shows, DIY Network has these little 30-second instructional spots on everything from building a fire pit to replacing window screens. When my husband came home that afternoon, I began telling him how easy it would be to refinish this or replace that… Obviously, he thought that my new friends were having an adverse affect on me.

I’ll Show Him…
The following weekend, I was getting around much better. I had taken all my medications and had begun physical therapy for my back. The first cool front had blown in and it was a beautiful day. I wanted to open up the windows – but I couldn’t. The screens were old and the dogs had scratched huge holes in them. John had been putting off replacing them because we had five custom screens to replace and it was going to take two weeks and cost close to $200 to have them fixed. Then, I had a 30-second flashback. I did some quick measurements and calculations, then John and I got into the car and drove to our local True Value Hardward Store.

Turns out that our True Value hardware man was a woman. She quoted us a price of $185 for repairing the screens and confirmed that it would take two weeks to complete the order. Then I decided to show my savvy. I asked the woman if they carried a 36” inch stainless steel insect mesh. “Yes ma’am,” she said. Great! John, who is a contractor, nudged me and told me to be quiet. “I’ll need about 14 feet of the 36” stainless insect mesh," I said. "And what about that black strip that acts like a gasket and holds the mesh in place – the SPLINE?!?” “Yes ma’am,” she said. "Do you know what guage you will need?" I think it is a .180 round," I said. “Great!” John shot me a quizzical look. I gave the woman my calculations for the spline. “And I’ll need that special tool too – the splining tool… Yeah the splining tool. No not the metal one," I said. "I understand it can actually damage the mesh during installation. I’ll take the cheaper plastic splining tool. Thank you! You have truly been a person of true value to me.”

John and I headed to the register. The whole way I was being lectured on how I was probably going to end up costing us more money because I didn't know what I was doing. What do you mean? I just had a very knowledgeable conversation with another woman who knows her stuff. The cashier rang up our sale. "Twenty-seven dollars and eighty-three cents," she said. Wow! Is that all? That’s not quite $185 worth of material. I was beginning to second-guess myself. I had done the measurements and calculations twice and had added enough overage. Certainly I hadn’t miscalculated. Had I?

The lecture on the way home was less intense. After all, if I failed, the cost would be a minimal $27.83. We got home and John helped me removed the old screening. Then I got a small piece of plywood and laid it over the kitchen table. I placed the first screen frame on the plywood and unrolled the screen coil just enough to cover the frame. Then, I zipped around the frame with the convex edge of the splining wheel forcing the screen edges into the frame. After that, I took the spline and forced it into the frame edge using the concave edge of the splining wheel. In less than 15 minutes, I had replaced my first screen. Upon completing the last screen, I had exactly two inches of overage. I hadn’t miscalculated. For $27.83, I had done my first DIY project. I saved approximately $157 by doing the project myself and I did it in one afternoon. I opened my windows and felt the cool fresh air as it rushed through the screens and felt the satisfaction of a project done well, done quickly and done cost effectively. And...You can bet your sweet penny it won’t be my last DIY project!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Favorite Teachers...Revisited

Recently, having visited the wonderful teachers in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, I spoke of the wonderful teachers who reminded me so much of my favorite teacher, Clara B. Walker. [Posted: August 16, 2009] Mrs. Walker taught me in the third grade at Wooten Elementary School in Austin, Texas. At the end of the post, I mentioned that I might look her up so that I could tell her thank you. Well, I did!

The search for Mrs. Walker began with Google. Soon I found myself looking at ancestry records and the like. I would never find her this way. So I did what I would have done in the third grade. I found a telephone book and I searched for Walker, Clara. Bingo! It was definitely the Clara Walker I was looking for. I recall her telling us about her husband and recognized his name. I wrote down her address and telephone number.

The following week, I sent Mrs. Walker a copy of The Angry Thunderstorm, along with a letter. Not sure if she would remember me, I explained that she had taught me in the third grade and that I remembered her fondly. I shared my memories of her class and then, I thanked her for dedication to her profession. I explained that, through her, I had developed a love of poetry and writing that had lasted throughout the years. The book that she was receiving was a direct result of how she touched my life and how that one year as her student had shaped my being.

A few days later, I received a letter in the mail. I knew right away who it was from. The perfect cursive handwriting said it all. The first words I read were, CONGRATULATIONS! CONGRATULATIONS! CONGRATULATIONS! The same enthusiasm she had shown in the classroom resounded in her handwritten note. She told me that she had shared the book with her friends and that they were interested in having a book of their own for the children in their lives. And...she asked if I would stop by for a visit.

Last week, after work, my son and I visited Mrs. Walker. She had invited approximately thirteen of her friends to her home and we had a private reading and an enjoyable evening full of conversation. It was such a privilege for my son, Ryan, who is in the sixth grade, to get to visit with my teacher. Believe me, he had plenty of questions for her.

Later that evening, on our way home, Ryan said, "Mom, you were lucky to have such a great teacher. Mrs. Walker is the nicest person I have ever met." Then it dawned on me...just as I had been in 1973, Ryan, too, had been touched by this wonderful woman. And...although she is retired from her profession, she will never cease to be a wonderful teacher!

P.S. - We hope to post pictures of our visit very soon!