Tuesday, December 24, 2013

To our military, wherever you are deployed this Christmas

My deepest gratitude to you for your sacrifice to protect our freedom, and to your families for their sacrifice at home.
My family and I know what an empty chair at the Christmas table feels like. We know what it's like to miss loved ones and to be missed. We know what it's like to wait for phone calls, and the anguish when the call doesn't come. This song has special meaning to my family and I because of that.

We are waiting; we have not forgotten . . .

A simple Christmas carol not heard on the radio very often has touched my heart deeply this year. I pray it touches those who need God's peace this Christmas just as it touched mine.

Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsty.com/christmas-songs-still-still-still-lyrics.html ]
Sleep, sleep, sleep, 'Tis the eve of our Saviour's birth. The night is peaceful all around you, Close your eyes,
Let sleep surround you. Sleep, sleep, sleep, 'Tis the eve of our Saviour's birth.

Dream, dream, dream, Of the joyous day to come. While guardian angels without number,
Watch you as you sweetly slumber. Dream, dream, dream, Of the joyous day to come. 

A blessed and peaceful Christmas from our family to you,
Mark and Kathy Venturini

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Touching Adoption Story - Guest Blog by Patti Smith

I was going through some boxes and found an Anthology of Student Writing from my son's elementary school. I went directly to a dog-eared page and this is what I found:
(A True Story)
Bobby Cleghorn
Grade 6
Up until I was 7 I remember that I lived in a truck and under a roller coaster and in motel rooms. When I was 7 my Mom left my sister Bonnie and I in a motel room to go bail my dad out of jail and she never came back. 
The principal of my school found out that we were left alone and called the police. We were taken to a shelter home. We lived there for a year. Then we went to a foster home with Debi as a foster mom. We stayed there for a year  then Debi and my sister moved to Connecticut. I moved to a group home. I was there for a year till Debi moved back and I went to live with her and my sister again. When I moved back in we both went to a new school. It was a small school. My teacher was really great and the school secretary started taking me to her house on weekends. I also spent Spring Break with her and Don. It was a “test-drive” to see if I would like living in Aguanga with them but I didn't know it.
One day, Debi took Bonnie and me out for ice cream. She wanted to tell us that there were people who wanted to adopt us. Bonnie's teacher in Connecticut wanted her and I guessed many names until Debi said Patti and Don wanted to adopt me. I was really happy about that!
We had to go to court and the judge said that Bonnie could move to Connecticut and I could move in with Patti and Don. I  lived with them a year and we went to court again. The judge said the adoption was final and I was Patti and Don's son forever. After court that day my new mom and dad had a surprise adoption party for me at Stadium Pizza. All the people from my school were there and so were my grandparents and my social worker. I was really surprised! I got really nice gifts and had a fun time.
I talk to my sister on the phone almost every week and we see each other in the summers. We share stories of our new families.
I am now in the sixth grade and still go to the same school. My new teacher is great!
What a blessing to have found that gem! Robert (I still call him Bobby, much to his dismay) is now 33 and the father of two beautiful daughters.  Even though he's a grown man, I still see that little boy that walked into my office and into my heart so many years ago.
 Then and now . . .

Monday, December 16, 2013

Whispers Book Cover: The results are in! Thank You!!!

In a blog post, Blame it on the Book Cover, LuAnn Schindler describes: 
 Y ou’re at a party, scanning the buffet table, uncertain which treat will satisfy your appetite. The succulent cuts of thin-sliced prime rib may ease the craving, but then your eyes lock on a thick slab of key lime pie topped with whipped cream. Which do you select?
     The same principle applies to the bookstore. Walk in, and you’re inundated with an explosion of colors and graphics that capture your attention. Do you select the book with muted tones and a gold-embossed title? Or do you gravitate toward the pastel-colored cover with a cute shoe/handbag/cartoon-like caricature?

When faced with choosing a book cover for the paperback version of my  fantasy Whispers from Forbidden Earth a few weeks ago, I asked followers of this blog a similar question. I needed help choosing a book cover that would appeal to fantasy fans ages 8 and up.

Your response was overwhelming! I want to thank everyone who participated. Surprising, the responses were literally split right down the middle. Left: 23, Right: 17, Both: 2. Some of the responses were interesting:

Jane wrote: 
I've collected votes from the Kiddos.
Boy, age 5: right
Boy, age 9: right
Girl, age 12: left

Michael wrote this interesting observation: 
The one on the left (pastel) may be more attractive to female readers (that's a guess) but it will be less attractive to male readers (that's not a guess). 

What I found most interesting is that many comments from women seemed to back Michael's observation. Many were drawn to the pastel colors. The left cover intrigued me, but I finally came to the decision that it looked too much like a science fiction cover. What cinched the decision, though, were the votes from Jane's kids as well as this comment from Mary: For this demographic, I like the one on the right. It looks high fantasy and will appeal to Eragon and Harry Potter fans.  
      So, with everyone's help, the decision has been
made and the cover selected. I do appreciate the
overwhelming response. It was a blast. We'll do it again with the sequel.

You can check out the Whispers on amazon by clicking the link on this blog. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Now for something completely different . . . NI !!!!

Don't ask me why, I guess I'm just in one of those strange Monty Python moods today! Maybe I'm channeling my inner teenager again. Enjoy. NI . . .

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Guest Blog: The Grinch aka Melanie M. Jeschke

The Grinch    
I have a confession to make: I am a Grinch.  I live in dread of this time of year and feel guilty because of it. Don’t get me wrong: I love Jesus and totally get that “He is the reason for the season.”  As a child, I absolutely loved Christmas: the decorations, the music, the lights, the cookies, the tree, the visits from Santa, the reverence of our candlelight Christmas Eve service, the fun of opening gifts—everything held me in awestruck wonder. I appreciate now all my parents, and especially my mom, did to make the season magical.
But as I have taken on the role my parents played, I have found the season to be incredibly stressful, not magical at all.  Mind you, I have nine children, three times that of my parents; so I could in good conscience multiply the amount of work I have to do at least that many times, plus even more now that we have enlarged our family, adding 7 sons and daughters-in-law and 12 grandchildren (as well as my parents who have moved in with us). While I’m writing this blog, I have a stack of end of term papers to grade for the college composition class I teach, long overdue edits on my books to complete so that they can be released as e-books, and then the usual Christmas litany of the annual letter to write and mail, the decorations to finish putting up, and the gifts to buy and wrap. I feel overwhelmed and stressed and not at all excited that Christmas is a little over two weeks away.  Sometimes I almost wish we were Puritans who do not observe special holidays! But we are not, and for this reason, I’ve confessed that I’m a Grinch.
So, now that I’ve confessed, I have to ask myself: what can I do about this situation? How can I de-stress myself? This morning at our MOPS group, where I’m a mentor mom, we had a therapist and mother talk to us about abandoning our perfectionism. For me, her talk was timely, as I recognized that part of my problem is trying to replicate the wonder of my childhood Christmases and living up to some perfectionist ideal which I cannot possibly achieve. Our speaker encouraged us to give up unrealistic expectations. I have to face grading papers and getting my semester grades in since that is my job, but I should relax and give myself a break on all the other stresses, which are primarily self-imposed. I should recognize that I will never be able to decorate like Martha Stewart and our bank account won’t allow me to be extravagant in my gift giving. The Christmas letters may or may not be out on time this year. But most importantly, I shouldn’t allow my own anxieties or frustrations, Grinch-like, to steal other people’s joy.
 Here’s hoping I can take a deep breath, concentrate on essentials, forget the nonessentials, and do the next thing God has put before me, not what I think should be done. And like the Grinch, I hope I can reform and allow my heart to grow three sizes in one day. 
May “God bless us, every one!” Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Rant Meter is pegged at 100%

I intended to write something light and fluffy today but a CNN article on the most recent International Student Assessment (PISA) test results got my rant meter pegged at 100%. Sorry :-)

More than half a million students, aged 15 and 16, sat a two-hour exam last year as part of the assessment. Pupils came from 65 countries representing 80% of the global economy. Shanghai's results topped the list of countries. Congratulations to them. Where did the United States rank? Try 36th!

I was disheartened. I was angry, I was upset. Guess what, I still am! Some on the fringe right may argue that US public schools have been failing ever since God and prayer were removed from the classroom. I contend that it isn’t a lack of prayer, but rather a lack of hard work and determination, a lack of parental involvement and discipline. We live in a culture of entitlement, where everyone has to be equal. There are no winners and losers. You can’t have a winner because you may hurt someone’s feelings. Johnny, I know you struggle with math, but you’re really good at video games, aren’t you.

My grandfather, Louie Venturini came to America in 1908 when he was eight years old. He never made it past the 4th grade, yet he was a successful farmer and a very successful owner/operator of a coal mine. He started working when teams of horses plowed fields and canaries were the early-warning signal for carbon monoxide in the mines. No one handed my grandfather anything. He worked hard. He persevered. He was determined and he did well.

Is every child in the US failing? Of course not. Are there achievers out there? Definitely. However, in a broad sense we as a country are failing our most precious commodity—our children, our future. I’m not smart enough to shape educational policy. All I’m advocating is common sense and hard work with a good measure of stick-to-itiveness thrown in. It worked very well for my grandfather.      

Here's the CNN article: