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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Part III - My Rant on the German Educational System

For all you new-comers, this is a continued explanation of the experiences we had with my children in the German educational system. With my oldest son's graduation this Spring and his acceptance into a college here in the U.S., I felt it was time to finally let all the stored up years hit daylight.
Part I covered a general description of the German educational system (since it is so different than the one here in the U.S.). Part II begins my rant.

And now, off to part III!

So, my oldest son was now in his 9th year at the lowest level school in the educational ladder. We let his 'shadow' (the individual who was supposed to help him integrate) go, since having her around was actually giving the kids in the class more reason to poke fun at my son, and otherwise, was doing little good.

Luck struck again, and it was decided that all 9th grades (which was supposed to be the final year in this level and for the kids, off to an apprenticeship) in Baden-Wuertemburg had the chance to take part in a pilot program, which allowed the kids to slide right on into the next level and continue a regular education until the end of the 10th grade.  The reason being that several states were contemplating getting rid of the lowest school level completely, so that future kids would only be divided up between two (instead of three). 

My son was determined to use this chance. He studied hard, got his grades up and at the end of the year, exercised his right to continue into the 10th grade. 

Here again, it was interesting to see the reaction of the teachers. Since this was a pilot program, parents were asked to meet with the teachers near the end of the year to decide if their children were really 'ready' for this choice. My son, according to the teacher, was not. She felt he was making a big mistake by wanting to continue his education and would be better off heading directly into the work world. Since this was luckily our decision, and not hers, we went against her recommendation and my son continued into the 10th grade. Interestingly enough, we later found out from my son's friends that from 28 kids, the teacher advised that only 2 were ideal enough to continue their education.

So, 10th grade started, and all was well in school. . .well, in so far that my son was getting better grades. Socially, it was a disaster. 

The teachers continued to tell the students that had slid in through this program that they really had no business being in the 10th grade. This wore on my son. His self-esteem suffered greatly, and by the end of the year, his 'panic' attacks increased.

*Panic attacks - when something out of the ordinary happens and my son sees this as a danger, his mind kicks into high gear. He believes that his life is actually being threatened and simply flips out. This included screaming and/or suddenly running away in whatever direction (even if it means climbing fences or bushes) - anything to get him as far away from the perceived danger as fast as he can.

The final exams came for the 10th grade, and my son did surprisingly well. Too bad the hunt for an apprenticeship didn't. He was offered no help from the school, and although social services claimed they could help him, they were restructuring at the time and continued to tell us that 'no one was responsible for his case at the moment.' My son filled out application after application, but most went on older kids. Apprenticeships are unfortunately not only open for kids who graduate from school, but also for older youth and even 20-year-olds who simply wish to switch fields. There are not enough places for all of them. 

My son was turned down again and again. Since all youth must attend a school, apprenticeship, job education or something until the end of the 11th year (even if they have to figure out how themselves), we did an emergency registration at a car mechanic school just to bring him under. It was actually part of the school's requirements that my son have an apprenticeship in a shop, but he wasn't the only one who couldn't find one. When I asked the school if they could help find one or suggest someplace, they threw the telephone book at me.

But my son was psychologically destroyed. No one wanted him. He didn't want to be a car mechanic. Everyone told him he was worthless. He started to believe it, would lay in bed and cry saying that God made a mistake in creating him. And the panic attacks got out of control. My son refused to leave the house by himself, convinced that someone was always waiting to get him. It got so bad that even if the doorbell rang or the telephone, he would scramble to the attic and block the door with a piece of furniture.

I finally went to his psychologist - the one in charge of his autism help sessions (oh, which they also kicked him and another child out of because they said he wasn't interacting enough or smiling enough...and if you know anything about autism, these two things are kind of a very, normal habit...it's one reason they take therapy.)

Anyway, I told the psychologist about my son's situation. Her suggestion - place him in a mental institute for 6 months without visitation rights. 

I told her that I didn't think this would help considering he was scared of being out in public. Locking him away, would only further isolation, not help it. She disagreed and said I was in over my head.

That was the last time I saw her.

Several months later, we moved to the U.S. My son was registered into the 11th grade at high school. He has had no issues whatsoever. His panic attacks have not appeared for over 1 1/2 years now. He has a girlfriend and friends at school. He has a driver's license and does all the things that teens do by himself. His last semester he even pulled a 3.7 GPA and will be attending college this Fall.

And all that just because of a simple move to the U.S. No extra support. Nothing.

Something is wrong with Germany.

Okay, now you might say 'sure, but he was autistic!' and maybe it was just him hitting the system wrong...or perhaps the wrong people in the system. (I don't believe this, but I'm saying this for argument's sake.) 

But I can prove this wrong. How? Come back to Rant IV...yes, I told you this was long. . .where I'll present our further dealings with the German educational systems. Nope, my story is not done yet.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Celebrate the Small Things

Yay! I love this time of the week. Thanks to Lexa Cain and her wonderful co-hosts. . .

L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Katie @ TheCyborgMom

we get to sit down and remember all those little things this past week that put a smile on our faces. And who doesn't love to smile????

This week, I'm celebrating. . .

1) My daughter has her first official job! She's working as a waitress and managed a total of $60 on tips her first night. Go girl!

2) Lovely smells!  Okay, that sounds weird. My son gave me half-a-dozen scented wax things for Mother's Day. I have a wax melter but have never used it very often. Now, in order to keep up, I'm running it every day.

3) Sleeping in! Which is why this post is late. With the kids off of school and summer's long days, our schedule has shifted slightly. Which means lazy mornings full of kid-hugs in bed! (Okay, maybe that's a separate thing to celebrate)

4) Rain??? No. I'm not going to celebrate that... at least, not as much as we've been getting. BUT we did manage to get our pool up and running, and the kids slip in every storm-free moment they get. Not me, though. That water is cold!

5) Lots of ARCs from awesome authors! So many friends are bringing out books this next month and needed reviews. I think I might have over-extended myself a bit, but I'm more than happy to drown in awesome books. . .even if it means the undoing of me??? Oh yeah!

And, I might have something to make some of you smile. There's a brand, new email newsletter out from a fantastic group who loves one thing - YA Books! It's free too. If you're interested, head on over to Bookworm for Kids and take a peek.

What about you? What wonderful things are you celebrating? Discover a lost earring under the bed? Did a frog sing you to sleep? Stumble across an awesome book in the library? What put a smile on your face???

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cancer and Kids with Deborah Cornwall

I'm super pleased to have the chance to introduce a very special woman and author. Deborah Cornwall has devoted her life to others by focusing on the fight with cancer. During her engagement, she noticed that although information for the cancer patients was readily available, there was a hole in information for their care-takers. She took it on herself to do something about this, and among other works, is now celebrating the release of her book, Things I Wish I'd Known: Cancer and Kids.

Welcome, Deborah! It's so nice to have you.

(For those who don't know Deborah, here's her in a nutshell, but after reading the interview, I think you'll see that this woman is not so easy to sum up in a few words.)

A legislative advocate with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, Deborah J. Cornwall is the author of Things I Wish I’d Known: Cancer and Kids andThings I Wish I’d Known: Cancer Caregivers Speak Out. Cancer and Kids focuses on what you need to know and do, and where to find resources, when faced with a cancer diagnosis in the family.

When I read more about your background and all the ways you work and have worked to help others in the fight with cancer, I was simply amazed. To say that you've been and continue to be a blessing in this area is an understatement. Your first book addressing cancer was a new concept in so far that it wasn't directed to cancer patients but rather their caretakers. And in this one, you've pin-pointed it toward the children of these caretakers (which I simply find heart-warming).  What inspired you to reach out to this particular group?

Thanks for your kind words, Tonja, as well as your thoughtful questions. I was a donor and active board member for the New England Division of the American Cancer Society for a number of years, beginning in the 1980s, and at that time I thought of it as a good organization that my parents had supported, so it was just a good thing to do. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a total shock, although I now know that your risk rises as you age, and I was just at my 55th birthday. The shock is indescribable, and it changed my life by introducing me to the impact that cancer has on both patients and caregivers' ability to regain control of their lives. I was an accomplished professional, with a thriving career, a husband, and a grown daughter, and I thought I knew something about cancer. At the moment of my own diagnosis, I felt I had lost all control over my destiny, had no idea what would happen, and began to cry almost constantly for nearly two weeks. Little did I know that my own experience, with just a lumpectomy, radiation, and Tamoxifen, would turn out to be a real cancer "non-event" compared to the stories I would hear from caregivers once I started my research with caregivers nine years later.

I decided to focus my first book, Things I Wish I'd Known: Cancer Caregivers Speak Out, on caregivers because I realized that there were few resources to help them get their bearings during the process. Most available resources were memoirs by one person, describing his or her survival or caregiving experience. I felt that you'd have to read lots of books to get a feel for the range of issues you'd encounter, given the wide range of situations that cancer can pose. That led me to decide that I had to write an interview-based book that would provide an overview, like a survey course in college, to help caregivers avoid nasty surprises or challenges for which they were unprepared.

As a result, I interviewed 95 caregivers for 117 patients aged 2-92, from 19 states and 2 Canadian provinces, who were dealing with over 40 different cancers. I was stunned at how willing they were to share their most intimate life experiences with a total stranger; it turns out that most had never been asked how they had navigated their caregiving experiences, let along what they would want those following in their footsteps to know as they enter caregiving. The first book shares their stories and then extracts from them the most important lessons and guidance for caregivers. Their stories have become part of who I am, and I feel I have a responsibility to share their stories in ways that will help carry their messages to new caregivers on their behalf.

Once the first book had been released, and as I thought back on the most urgent issues that emerged from my research, I realized that a significant portion of these interviewees were confronting the urgent questions of "how do I tell the kids?" when a parent or sibling is diagnosed with cancer and we don't yet know whether they'll survive. Many were also facing the pain of  "how do I tell my child he has cancer" when the child himself is diagnosed and was all of a sudden going to be exposed to hospitals, "needle sticks" many times a day, and—for many—interruption of their normal school and social lives for long periods. Cancer caregiving is hard enough when it doesn't involve children. These stories were so compelling and poignant that I felt compelled to write a book that would help them deal with the most urgent and sensitive issues associated with cancer and kids. The focus of my second (short) book—Things I Wish I'd Known: Cancer and Kids-- is on guiding the reader to the most urgent and critical issues they'll have to confront and to the best resources available on the internet and at their local cancer centers. You could think of it as a quick reference book for use when this kind of emergency arises.

The list that you offer for different groups and organizations which people can turn to for help and assistance is impressive, and I can imagine people would find it very helpful. But despite this already growing supportive network, has your research uncovered some areas which you'd like to see more happening?

My first concern is to improve the diagnostic process for children, in particular, but also for adults. The challenge in our healthcare system is that medical specialties have become so molecular, with micro-specialization. Cancer, especially in children, may not arrive with bright neon signs saying "This is cancer—pay attention to me!" As a result, I heard too many stories of both children and adults who experienced delayed diagnoses because they were seeing busy primary care PCPs or pediatricians who didn't realize that recurrent and seemingly benign symptoms might actually be a sign that patients' health and even survival were at risk. When you hear the many stories, it seems obvious—the mid-forties man who was diagnosed with and treated for recurrent urinary tract infections (which are said to be rare in men) and ended up being diagnosed (too late) with a complex abdominal cancer that killed him, or the teen-ager who was diagnosed with a serious and rare thyroid cancer after being initially treated for a series of colds, upper respiratory infections, swollen glands, and sore throats. In many of these situations, the PCP just didn't take the time or wasn't familiar enough with the signs that the seemingly routine symptoms were masking something more serious. So . . . long story short . . . I think there's not enough cross-disciplinary perspective in the diagnostic process. I think there's a need for pediatricians and PCPs to have some training in what symptoms should short-cut the traditional channels and move someone more quickly into a specialized cancer diagnosis track of care.

In terms of support for children, there are lots of support groups for adults who are facing cancer either as caregivers or as patients, but there aren't many resources available for helping parents think through how to communicate about cancer to their children and how to figure out what support children will need. Sometimes kids don't even know themselves what they need, but those needs may emerge when they're in a situation with peers who are also experiencing cancer in the family.  Often they benefit from interacting in play, art, or talk situations with other children who will understand their wide-ranging emotions and the occasional pangs of insecurity that cancer poses for them and their loved ones. I also think it's important for major cancer centers to begin offering more activities to allow families to deal with the pressures that cancer poses for family members individually and for them as a unit whose normal patterns of interaction may be shattered by the dynamics of cancer treatment.

Third, I believe we need more general public education about the statistic that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get cancer in their lifetimes. Sure, cancer is far more common as you get older, but the reality is that it can be far more serious in young people, which demands more vigilance. In addition, while being "cancer free" is the goal of treatment, most of us don't realize the variety of health complications that cancer survivors may experience many years after treatment ends. These can include serious cardiac and reproduction problems that can change someone's life trajectory. The point is that just because you're cancer-free doesn't mean you can be carefree for the rest of your life.

As mentioned before, this isn't the first book in the Things I Wish I'd Known series. You've written several of these, which are directed to different groups in the care-taking process. I know much of your research came from speaking with cancer patients and their families. Was this the same type of research you needed to complete this book for children, or did you find some differences in how you had to approach the subject? 

What an interesting question! The research was totally different for the two books, although I did draw on the interview base from the first book as a foundation for some of the vignettes and issues cited in the second. The first book was open-ended research. Because of HIPAA regulations about disclosure of cancer patients' identity, I couldn't expect to get referrals from medical or social work resources. I had to circulate (mostly by email chains) a "magnetic" description of what I was doing and provide contact information so people who wanted to participate would contact me. In contrast,  for the second book (dealing with children's issues), I was talking with experts in the field, tapping their professional perspectives and insights about what issues are most critical and what resources they rely on for addressing those issues. I also then enriched this information with both snippets from my earlier interviews and stories I accumulated from people I'd met or friends who themselves dealt with difficult cancer issues with children in the intervening period since the first book was released. A lot of my research for the Kids book also involved surfing the internet to find resources that professional organizations were highlighting for their own audiences, so I could share those with my readers.

Now, to some lighter questions, since life can't always be serious and joy is often the greatest cure:

Many authors were avid readers during their childhood. What were you favorite books while growing up?

I was an avid reader, but never thought I'd ever end up writing a book myself. I used to read series of mysteries that shared the same character going through a variety of exciting and unpredictable challenges. There were lots of those when I was growing up.

That's probably why my favorite genre today tends to be mysteries (like those by Stieg Larsson, Tana French, and Arnaldur Indridason). I'm not usually into historical or biographical novels, but I loved the biographies of Steve Jobs and Colin Powell, probably because they offered some fascinating perspectives on them as people that had never come through the classic press coverage. Besides offering a good story, some of the most enjoyable books for me are those that use language in an carefully shaped way that triggers visual images through the author's selection of a distinctive word or an unexpected turn in a plot.

What book are you reading right now?

I'm about to read Wolf Hall (just waiting for it to arrive). As I said above, I'm not usually a biography or history reader, but the PBS TV production of Wolf Hall got me interested in learning more. I found it challenging to fill in the blanks between settings in the series – it was like getting a sequence of snapshots that didn't have a lot of connective tissue between them, and it was challenging to keep the various players clear in relation to each other. When I read the first page of the book on Amazon's "see what's inside," I was stunned at how gripping her narration is, and I decided to go for reading about Henry and all of his wives because it would enrich what I'd previewed on PBS.

When you aren't writing, what do you like to do? 

I'm busy. I'm a golfer, although have had back issues the last year or so and haven't played much; hope to get back to it this year. It's a wonderful way to commune with nature and with yourself once you turn off your Type A achievement drivers and convince yourself that it's really a game and not a competition.

I also serve on the board of a healthcare organization, Hope Health, that focuses on helping improve the quality of life for people who are facing chronic illnesses and dementia. Among other services, they offer home house calls for the infirm and both palliative care and grief counseling for children (services that connect to my Cancer and Kids concerns).

Probably biggest activity, though, is that I'm still an active cancer advocate focusing on educating legislators on the need to increase cancer research funding. I am a speaker for ACS Relay For Life, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, and community groups to try to generate activism on behalf of that cause. I get lots of support from local newspapers in contributing articles for public education. Most recently, I've been following the dramatic developments that are beginning to get press coverage about how cancers get their signals to grow or stop growing through the immune system and other body systems. (Who would have ever believed that scorpion venom, for instance, could prove helpful in addressing some kinds of cancers?) The research world is starting to recognize that cancer isn't about particular body parts, but about particular genetic mutations and triggers that may characterize multiple kinds of cancers. In addition, analysis of cancer registries (using what's called "big data" is helping identify patterns in what biological markers tend to appear in tumors and blood samples for different kinds of cancers and is leading to recognition of areas for research avenues that offer promise for huge impact in the future. I try to capture not just caregiving issues, but some of these hopeful developments in my website's blog (www.thingsiwishidknown.com).

Finally, I've just been appointed to a stakeholder research committee within the American Cancer Society at the national level that helps determine which young researchers' proposals should be funded; I've served on a similar committee within New England for the past two years and hope to continue there as well. This kind of volunteer role is a way to get exposed to the inside story about progress in detecting and defeating the disease and offers an opportunity to have an impact on the future course of clinical medicine to help save lives.

What was your biggest wish as a child?

Wow. I don't really remember. I guess my wish was to do well and make a difference, and my parents encouraged me to follow my passions. I'd seen my parents highly engaged in their communities, my father as a lawyer (like the old-fashioned general practitioner) and my mother as a community volunteer, mayor, and political candidate at the state level. While I never considered entering politics, I was raised with a value system that we all have the obligation to give something back in appreciation for our good fortune. My cancer activism is certainly an example of giving back in recognition of my own good fortune in turning a cancer "lemon" into lemonade that can help others.

Well, I can only hope and pray that your lemonade stays as sweet as it is. I'm sure many are glad you've stuck to this concept. Thanks again for stopping by and here's wishing you continued strength and success!

And here's a peek at Deborah's new book. Head on over to Bookworm for Kids for more information and if you're curious to see what I thought of it.

This short book was written for cancer caregivers who are responsible for helping children understand what a cancer diagnosis means for a loved one or for themselves. The cancer experience shakes most caregivers to their core. It is even more compelling and poignant when it involves children. Thousands of families each year face this shocking reality. Based on interviews with caregivers who have first-hand knowledge, this book is intended to help anyone facing a cancer diagnosis affecting a child, either as the patient or as a member of a family. It offers advice and cites resources to help discuss cancer with children of different ages, manage the impact of the disease on their daily lives, navigate treatment for kids with cancer, and deal with children's grief in the event of a death in the family.

In short and direct language, it offers guidance and resources (both references and internet links) for communicating and taking action in five areas:
  • Sharing the News about Cancer
  • Managing the Impact of a Cancer Diagnosis for Children
  • When the Child is the Cancer Patient
  • Handling the Death of a Parent or Sibling
  • Other Resources for Caregivers Concerned About Cancer and Children

If you're pressed for time and need to know what to do on these topics, you can't go wrong with this book. The references provided are comprehensive and will save you time and energy as you navigate through a challenging situation. 

For insights about the broader cancer caregiving process, see "Things I Wish I'd Known: Cancer and Kids," also by Deborah J. Cornwall.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Celebrate the Small Things!

This is a wonderful blog hop held every Friday by the lovely Lexa Cain. Every day, small things happen which put a smile on our faces, but soon these little things are forgotten. This hop helps us to remember those moments and realize that life is good and worth celebrating!

Thanks also goes to the co-hosts:

L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Katie @ TheCyborgMom

This week, I'm celebrating. . .

1) The beginning of summer vacation! Yep, the kiddos are home for three months and fun times can begin. I love not having to wake up at 6:00am every single day or having to worry that school bags and everything else is ready to go. Let the good times roll!

2) My son bought a pick-up! It's a little rusty and older, but his Camaro was suffering on the dirt roads. We live in 4x4 country, and my son finally figured that out.

3) I won a T-shirt and three books! Lol! As if my TBR list wasn't long enough. Maybe I'll have time to read while sipping on a Frappe??? Yeah right!

4) My daughter baked red velvet cupcakes! About 45 of them. Actually, she did it for school but has been watching cupcake wars on Netflix and got a bit carried away. They are yummy--with raspberries and self-made chocolate hearts on top. I wouldn't mind if she did it every single week (okay, day, but that would be hard on the waist line).

What about you? What wonderful things happened to you this week? Run into an old friend? See a pretty bird flying by? Laugh in the rain? What are you celebrating this week?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Part II - My rant on the German Educational System

Welcome, to part 2 of my rant about the German educational system.

For all new-comers, Monday was my introduction day with a shortish summary of the German school system. If you aren't familiar with it, go ahead and take a peek here.

I'm simply going to go right into my oldest son's story today. (*cough* the one who, btw, just graduated high school and will be attending college this fall).

He started his first grade year in Germany like a normal kid. By the end of the 2nd grade, he was having major social issues. He didn't want anything to do with the other kids and was often bullied. . .even to the point where the entire class cornered him while the teacher was still drinking her morning coffee. We were asked to have him 'tested'.

Turned out that he has a type of hearing problem. 60% - 70% of the spoken language isn't processed in his mind. Plus, he has difficulty picking out a single voice in a room full of noise.

When we received the test results, my son had already started the 3rd grade. We informed the teacher, asked her to place him in the front of the room and write the assignments on the board so he wouldn't over-hear them (that's what the doctors recommended).

But the problems grew worse. Every day, I received a phone call from the school, telling me that my son was being disruptive. It got to the point where he would hold on to the desk, crying and begging for the teacher not to throw him out again. We spoke with her, and it turns out that she decided (without informing us) that by placing my son in the front of the room, she would unnecessarily be putting other students at a disadvantage--the ones who had a real reason to be there since they needed to learn something. (According to her, my son did not need to learn anything since he obviously wasn't going to make it anywhere in life.) She placed him in the back corner of the classroom with two other 'disruptive' boys and told them to keep their mouths shut. If he didn't, he was told to leave the classroom for the rest of the hour and sit in the hall. After all, the others had a right to learn where he did not.

The solution was obvious--get my son out of that school!

Problem is: in Germany, you are assigned to a certain school according to your district. It's possible to change districts, but takes paperwork, time and good reasoning. Plus, the other school has to agree to your transfer. Since nobody wants a 'problem child', this was out of the question. There are a few private schools, but these, of course, are expensive and often booked out. We placed my son on the waiting list for one, but knew it would be a year or two before he got in. (We honestly registered my daughter (the 2nd oldest) in a nearby private school two weeks after her birth to make sure she got in.) Luckily. . .(if it can be considered that). . .my oldest son's 'problem' was severe enough that we got him into a special school for kids with speech retardation. My son never really fit in there, but at least, the teachers were nice and looked after him. Oh, and there is no such thing as 'home-schooling' in Germany. By law, all children must attended a registered school.

At the end of the 4th grade, as is normal in Germany, he was divided into one of the levels, the lowest (as basically all kids in that type of school are). Although many of his classmates were allowed to continue in the special school, my son was not since his 'hearing problems' weren't considered severe enough. The government refused to fund someone like him anymore.

I was fine with that. I didn't want my son there either, but where to go instead?
Luck struck again, and a place in the Christian private school opened up, so we stuck him in there.

That went well for one and a half years. Then the teacher lost both of his parents within 2 months, and fell into depression. The teacher took his problems out on the kids, which made my son react--more than the other students and he became disruptive (he didn't react when the teacher told him to do something). Again, we were told to send my son in for 'testing'.

This time, it came back that my son was also autistic. . .not severely, but now that we know what that means, it's obvious.

The teacher was informed and a type of aide was set up with the school's therapist. Again, the problems only grew worse. But it wasn't only with my son, the entire class suffered under the teacher. We informed the school what was going on in the classroom, but since it was a prize-carrying private school (they had just been published on a 4-sided article in some magazine), we were told to hold our mouths.

So we left again. This time, back to a normal school. The lowest level. Not by choice.

Again, it didn't take long for things to go sour. My son, even according to the teachers, was behaving. The other kids were not.

As said, this lowest level is for the 'weakest' kids--the ones with problems (like my son), which come from tough backgrounds, foreigners or simply the ones who don't care. It doesn't take much imagination to picture what goes on in a classroom. Most of the teachers don't put in much effort. They made that very clear to the kids too. But the kids know it anyway; they aren't going anywhere. They're simply biting time.

It's a lot rougher than the highest school. More drugs. More alcohol. More violence. Yes, I can compare because my daughter went to the highest level.

Since my son, with his 'problems', was completely unable to deal with such a social environment, we applied for a type of 'shadow', an adult who goes to school with the child several hours a week to make sure they're okay (not easy to get, but we got lucky). The couple of hours didn't help. Of course not. We knew that before it started, but we'd really run out of possibilities and places to go. By law, he had to attend school.

Then. . .

we take a break!

There's still more. So much more. So, stay tuned for Monday! Because it only gets worse from here. Amazing. But true.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Interview with Marci!

Yay, I've managed to snag another great author who's daring enough to venture by Kidbits and answer a few questions. Marci Matthews is an author and illustrator, who's not afraid to get out there and help others whenever she notices that help is necessary. Don't believe me? Then just read about her yourself!


Marci Matthews is a philanthropist, advocate, author and illustrator. Over the years, Matthews has worked with fraternities and sororities to support various charity events. She feels called to help survivors of sexual violence and is a trained and certified advocate with the Rape Crisis Center of Medina in Ohio.  She is also very active with the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN.org), working for the online hotline, becoming a member of RAINN's National Leadership Council and a member of their Speakers Bureau. In 2013, she received the organization’s Hope Award for her deep involvement. That same year, Matthews founded the not-for-profit Grace Initiative Foundation Tree to support her philanthropic initiatives.


Hello, Marci! And welcome to Kidbits. I'm so excited that you could stop by. You just brought out a wonderful new book. . .actually, it's more of a journal, Every Day a Hope. What can you tell us about it?

I see Every Day a Hope as an empowerment tool and a source of reflection for readers. When I created the journal’s tiny stories and illustrations, I intentionally layered as many possibilities into each page. I wanted the book to look simple, but be meaningful on several levels. I want each reader to ruminate on a particular moment in a way that evokes personal reflection – a sort of mini epiphany from the reader’s own spirit, thoughts, history, mood and more. I want the reader to feel inspired, empowered, and expanded with a sense of her own thoughts and feelings. I want Every Day a Hope to be a safe place for people who need to heal and find hope. For me, Every Day a Hope started a conversation with myself. I hope this journal allows readers to better communicate and understand themselves as well.

Healing isn’t linear.  And life, love, and our spirit-growth don’t follow linear paths, either. I want the pages of Every Day a Hope to suggest possibilities, and I hope each reader will make the journal her own in whatever way that means. Draw. Make lists. Think great thoughts. Take the pages of Every Day a Hope and color them, share feelings, make lists and draw out your dreams. You’ll notice, too, that I often switch up the pronouns I use in the journal. I do this to be inclusive, but I also switch pronoun usage if I feel society needs to think about a concept differently. My only wish is that this book brings something more to the reader: hope, healing, reflection, a lost memory, or just a new possibility created from a moment.

Some people like to keep their books as perfect as possible, not creasing the spine or bending a page. I must admit, I am the complete opposite. I devour, digest, display, and dismember books from enjoying them so much. I turn down corners, write in them, eat around them and make them part of my moment.

Not only are the words inspiring, but the pictures are simply amazing! Do you do your own artwork? Why is there an angel on every page?

I do create all of the art. Some pages literally started out as sketches on napkins or on the backs of bills I paid. I also have a tablet I can draw on directly, which I love. I chose to work only with black and white illustrations for Every Day a Hope because I want the reader to discover for herself the many shades of color available to her own path of healing.

 The angel is representative of the spirit, and it is meant to be inclusive since I don’t want this book limited by one viewpoint. Sometimes the angel is a symbol of the reader, sometimes it is meant as an active character on the page - often both. The angel is an “everyman” symbol meant to enhance and and reflect the reader’s own spirit.

You’ve worked as an award-winning crisis counselor for years. What place do you think journaling holds in the healing process?

Funny you should ask, because the conversations I’ve had regarding journaling led me with great purpose to make this book a reality. In my earlier books, I’ve presented stories because I believed they had significance and positivity, but with Every Day a Hope, I wanted to focus on healing, hope, and surviving specifically because of my hotline work.

One way to heal is to write everything down but keep only the positive. For instance, if you are using scraps of paper, throw the good things you’ve written in a box or a drawer, but get rid of all the negative notes. Say you are so angry right now or sad, write down anything at all that comes to mind. Write the way you feel, even hold the pen or crayon angrily or sadly if you want, but when you are done, rip it up and get rid of it. If what you wrote is in a notebook, tear out the page. Weeks or months later, if you look in the box or the drawer, especially on a bad day, you will find only positive reinforcement. This exercise can be very rewarding and empowering.

I believe the idea of a journal can be extremely beneficial for anyone, especially someone who has experienced trauma. The act of keeping lists or things one might put in a photo album or scrapbook all in one place can truly help the speed and quality of healing. “Journaling” can sound cool, but it can also sound intimidating, expensive, and like a lot of work to some people, including me. No one has to have an expensive journal or even a notebook, scraps of paper can serve a positive function. The important thing is to keep it positive and eliminate the negative.

Here are some things you could keep in a notebook: safety notes, safety planning, support contacts, resources, things you did on a good day, things that you like or used to like, songs or movies that make you happy, places you’d like to visit, photos of anything or anyone you like, random positive thoughts or quotes, observations. Don’t pressure yourself  and don’t feel you must start on page one. Start anywhere you please. Write sideways or upside down. I used to experiment a lot with texture, size, and color. It can be really exhilarating to use a roll of paper and paintbrush or sidewalk chalk.

What’s next for you? Is there another book in the works?

There is another book! It is titled Every Cloud a Dream, and it will explore themes of diversity and acceptance. Because of the book’s focus on dreaming, I will include more abstract and imaginary art. Attainable or not, we should have crazy, beautiful, and awesome dreams in our hearts and our heads: We should be dreamers!  I think it is going to be a delightful challenge.

You obviously love to write. What is your favorite part about the process? 

I think my favorite part about writing, as well as reading, is feeling like I am in a different world - whether it's a few minutes or many hours - it feels just like one giant moment of wholeness, enthusiasm, and focus. The feeling I get from writing is similar to that feeling when you wake up from the greatest dream and it lingers in your spirit for a while and you wish you could go back to sleep, only you're awake.

Is there any part of writing which you would rather eat worms than do?

To be honest, when I was little, I read the book called How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell, so I know it can't be that bad.  Plus, I ate cricket tacos in Washington DC last year. However, in the spirit of the question I’ll say, at the moment, it is cleaning my chicken coop. My three hens (Henrietta, Gertrude and Esther) lay green eggs (totally true) and are total slobs. Worms sound really, really good right now. 

Green eggs? I'll have to have a talk with my own chickens and see if I can't get them to lay some of those.
But if you read Thomas Rockwell as a child, I'm betting you loved for books to transport you to different worlds. What was your biggest wish as a child?

Wow! This is a great question. I grew up a little differently than most people, so I always wished to be allowed just to read. Books were and still are the most important thing in my life in many ways. As a child I wanted to create and have people feel good about what I created. I spent many summers painting rocks, using colored markers (still love them) and trying to make sagebrush and wildflower perfumes in paper cups by the side of a river. I really wish the perfumes had caught on: If you've not grown up near sagebrush, you just don't know what you're missing.

Thanks again, Marci!

Before I go out and lecture my chickens about those eggs, here's a quick glimpse at her new book. If you want to take a peek at my review, feel free to head over to Bookworm for Kids!

Through tiny stories and illustrations, Every Day a Hope encourages and empowers readers to examine emotionally difficult issues, while instilling confidence, introspection, and creativity. In each page, Marci M. Matthews addresses familiar concepts in a unique manner, designed to evoke thoughts, feelings, changes in perspective, and the ability to embrace the positive. The concepts in Every Day a Hope are taken from Matthews' work with survivors, but the book is accessible to anyone who wants to find new ways to approach life with a positive outlook. Accompanying pages encourage readers to embark on their own explorations by asking questions and providing space to draw, write, keep lists, and create in whatever ways inspire them the most. Marci M. Matthews is an author, artist, philanthropist, and Certified Advocate. A survivor herself, she is the founder of the Grace Initiative Foundation Tree, a charitable organization dedicated to the healing and prevention of sexual violence. In 2013, Marci received the RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) HOPE Award for Fighting Sexual Violence and Helping Survivors. She volunteers as an online and phone hotline staffer, a hospital advocate and more.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Part 1 of my Rant on the German Educational System

Today, I'm going to start my rant. This is something I don't do often, but now, with my oldest son's graduation, all the memories have bubbled back to the surface.

Since this concerns the German education system, and most of you won't be familiar with the system, I'm going to start out with a general run-down and go into my rant Wednesday. Below describes the educational system as we experienced it in Baden Wurttemberg up until we moved from the area about a year and a half ago.

(There will be an awesome author interview with a very special woman tomorrow - so don't miss Tuesday either!)

Sorry, this first part is dry. . .but I really couldn't run  into the rest until I laid down this basic stuff. So, please, grab a tea...or a wine...or a beer...and put on that thinking cap.

Basic Information  (*applause*....maybe not)

Children start attending Kindergarten with the age of three. (In the last couple of years, several States have slid this age down to two). Unlike the Kindergartens here in the U.S., most facilities do not offer any form of education during this time. Kids are there for social reasons and do not start reading, writing, math or anything. Just social skills. Fun. Friendship. Being a kid.  (There are, of course, exceptions to this, but most follow this system still.)

When the kids move into the 1st grade, their education kicks into high gear. Immediately, with homework and everything even on the first day. Many kids will be reading sentences by Christmas vacation, and writing them too. It's amazing how fast they move. But there's a reason for this. By the end of the fourth grade, children are divided into three levels according to their grades:

1) Hochschule - the lowest group. Here, the children are on a path to enter apprenticeships for careers such as cooks, painters, carpenters, and such. This lasts nine years, and then continues either at a vocational school and/or apprenticeship. (This level is currently being phased out in some states)

2) Realschule - the middle group. The children are thought to enter such careers as travel agents, sales, secretarial work and such. This lasts ten years with usually a move into a trade college and/or apprenticeship.

3) Gymnasium - the highest level. Here, the intention is to get those kids ready for college. It lasts twelve years.

The second the kids walk through that 1st grade door, the teachers make it clear what's at stake - their entire future. The stress levels are high, and the expectation as well. If the kids want to have a shot at college, they must prove their worth by the end of the fourth year. (Here, it's important to note that there are ways of sliding into the other levels later on or working to achieve more later. However, this usually adds not only a couple years onto the individual's graduation age (can even lead up into the twenties to get a diploma), but also is difficult to do. Only the determined pull it off.)

If a child's grade fall below a certain average for more than one semester, they are forced to fall back into another level.

To make things more difficult, the school days are short. The average school day for those first four years goes from around 7:45 am until 12:00. During the last years, third and fourth graders have an added one or two afternoons with about two extra hours as well, since it became clear that teachers could no longer bring across the needed content within such a short time frame. Even with the extra hours, it's obvious that time is tight. Teachers, therefore, often do not see their responsibility in really teaching the kids, but more in presenting the content to them - it's all they have time for. The children themselves (even in the 1st grade) are responsible for understanding and practicing the information. Kids are sent home with 2-3 hours of homework every night (1st grade starts with 30 mins-1 hour), and most have tutors by the 2nd grade.

There are only three subjects which are considered important: Reading (incl. grammar, writing, phonics), Math, and English. (Bet you didn't see that one coming.) Although the other subjects exist and influence the overall GPA,  it is these three subjects which determine which level a child advances to. These three subjects also are the only ones tested at the end of the entire school career (before graduation, children receive a standardized final exam. This exam is over 6-8 hours long, and only tests the three subjects mentioned. The final grades (graduation grades) of the children are determined by these tests. . .not so much the running grades throughout the years.) It is also not known what is on these tests, so teachers cannot really help the kids study for them. The children just have to hope they have learned and remember everything from their entire school career for these exams. Simply said - it's stress pure.

And that's the basics. There are private schools, which offer different educational possibilities as well as 'entire day' schools, but the information above reflects the basic framework and even these private schools are still bound to general things such as the school levels (although they can help these levels slide more easily into each other) as well as the generalized testing before graduation.

(edited and added this next little part)

Now, I won't say that this system doesn't have it's 'benefits'. By breaking down the students at an earlier age, the teachers are able to bring across more information to the kids at the higher levels without worrying about the ones lagging behind. My children all noticed that there was a difference in what they learned in Germany and what the students in the same grades are learning here. The U.S. kids are behind (Well, at least compared to Gymnasium and the first four grades. My son, who went through the lower end, finds the level comparable). But, on the same hand, my children no longer have massive amounts of homework and can ask the teacher for help if they don't understand something without knowing they'll get their head bit off and probably denied.

I guess, summed up, the kids in Germany receive more information and are taught on a more advanced level (in so far as the higher German school levels), but this is only by cutting out the 'weak' learners. Granted, all of this is also based on the major subjects, math and reading. (I'll leave English out here, since that obviously can't be compared). And the actual learning in Germany is often thanks to tutors, active parents or simply the smarter kids themselves. In the U.S., all kids have the right to learn the same material, and the material is taught, not just presented.  Plus, special honors/advance placement programs or extra help sessions (on the other end) are also available.

Now, wasn't that dry?

As said, this is just the basic set-up to get ready for Wednesday's rant. (which won't be as dry)

So brew more tea, stock up on chips, and be ready!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Celebrate the Small Things

Every Friday, the amazing Lexa Cain sponsors this blog hop to help us remember that it's the little things in life that make the difference. We smile at all sorts of things during the week, and then tend to forget about them. Well, not anymore! If you want to join in, go on over to Lexa's and sign up on the linky.

And many thanks also goes to her co-hosts:

L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Katie @ TheCyborgMom

Thank you, Ladies!

This week, I'm celebrating:

1) My son's graduation. For him, this was a huge milestone in life and one of the biggest blessings of leaving Germany and moving back here to the States. I'm planning on elaborating this point some time next week (ranting is probably more like it), so stay tuned!

2) I saw two, plate sized snapping turtles in our spring-fed pond. I knew we have salamanders, tadpoles and frogs, but these guys were new to me. Of course, by the time I'd run back to the house to fetch the camera, they'd disappeared back into the mud. . .or water. . .or where ever. 

3) For Mother's Day, we went to see Avengers! 

And what about you? What things put a smile on your face this last week? Did you get to eat the best strawberry sundae ever? Splash your toes in a cool lake? Discover a $10 bill in your pocket? What can you celebrate?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


It's the first Wednesday in the month (gosh, these come up quick!), and that means it's time for another session of IWSG. This is the brain-child of Alex J. Cavanaugh and includes so much more than just this bloghop. But the purpose remains the same, to give writers/authors a chance to admit to our insecurities or offer words of support to those who might need it at the moment. Because the world of writing is not as easy as it seems.

And special thanks goes to this months amazing co-hosts,  Eva Solar Melanie Schulz, Lisa-Buie Collard, and Stephen Tremp! 

This month, I almost totally spaced IWSG. Spring has come and life on our little farm has gone crazy! But I've been writing as much as I can. Okay, trying to write as much as I can.

That's where this month's insecurity kicks in. I need to get my MS done. It needs to get out. People are waiting to see it and won't be patient much longer. And they shouldn't be.

The problem? Getting my brain to kick in. I need it full-time, but it keeps wandering off. A word sprint comes, but as soon as I'm done editing whatever little scene needs to get done, my mind thinks it's time for a break. I grab it by the shirt-tails as it turns to walk away and yank it back into the chair, but it is soooo stubborn! And it's not like it needs to think of anything really new. The revisions are mostly clear and laid out on a beautiful spread sheet.

Focus. That's what the next weeks need to be about.

How do you get your mind to keep itself where it should be and get the work done?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Currently. . .

The wonderful Katy Upperman has helped to spread this blog hop(which was started by others but you'll have to head on over to her for all the deets). Each week we can give a glimpse at what we're currently up to or doing in our lives...yep, writers do more than just sit and contemplate words.

Loving. . .

Warmer weather and going outside without grabbing a jacket first! Plus, my humming bird feeder had its first visitor.

Reading. . .

I've been going through the Melissa Marr Fairy series. I just finished WICKED LOVELY a couple of nights ago, and although I couldn't put it down while reading, the ending was a bit disappointing. I might start the 2nd one, INK EXCHANGE, tonight but I'm hesitant after reading that the main characters change. And I'm several chapters into Alex J. Cavanaugh's DRAGON OF THE STARS and am loving it!

Watching. . .

I've been flipping through several Japanese things lately, some Anime and some series. Nothing's really sticking yet, but my oldest son is having a grand old time teasing me about them.

Thinking About. . .

What to do next. Although we made the big move across the ocean last year, things aren't really settling in. For reasons out of our control, the planned ranch with my family has suddenly fallen through. Since our current living situation isn't really sustainable without the ranch for a longer period of time, we're going to have to come up with a new plan. Alaska? Beach home? Start up a business? The possibilities are endless and floating in all directions at the moment.

Anticipating. . .

My son's graduation in four days. See what he does in the next phase of life.

Wishing. . .

That I had a clone. Or more hours in the day. Or more days? My to-do list is HUGE! And I need to get my MS done and off to my agent. Can't I just snap my fingers and have everything done?

Making Me Happy. . .

Sonic has half priced Slushes today! Brain-freeze is guaranteed!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Celebrate the Small Things

It's the end of the week and time to stop and smile at all the wonderful things that happened during the last days. This happy bloghop is sponsored by Lexa Cain and helps us to remember all those little (and big) things which happened during the last week. When you sit back and think, life is worth celebrating in so many ways.

Thanks also goes to her super co-hosts:

L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Katie @ TheCyborgMom

My first celebration is figuring out how to use the camera on my Kindle...so be patient please because I'm not sure this will work as hoped.

Anyway, this is what I'm celebrating this week:

1) My book-page-rose wreath is done and hanging on the wall. Those flowers were so fun to make!

2) I stumbled across a recipe for homemade laundry detergent and made a batch. It smells so good! But I think I'm going to have to warm it up and blend it again...the bottom crystallized a little more than it should have. Oh well.

3) Flowers are popping up everywhere. And weeds, but I'm ignoring that part right now.

 This year, I've been discovering all the flower beds the previous owner once had under layers of overgrown weeds. See if we can bring this place back up to what it once seemed to be.

Oh, and I did discover a snake in the rocks - a baby Copperhead. Not good. I know.

4) And last but not least, I'm celebrating an awesome week of revisions! I was stuck on my MS because although it's almost agent ready, there was still this tug in my gut that the plot isn't quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on the problem. While watching some short excerpts from the new Avenger Movie (yes, I'm a total fan-girl!), inspiration hit!
Nope, it has absolutely nothing to do with those Avengers or the movie clips, but for some reason, simply watching them made my mind click.
Inspiration is a funny thing.

Also, the wonderful Courtney King Walker stopped by for an interview today, and it turned out more fun than I thought it might. She's quite the person! But feel free to scroll down a post and take a peek. There's a giveaway too!

And what about you? Try a wonderful new slush flavor that left your taste buds tingling? Did you get your first tan? Have time to wander through a bookstore? Did a butterfly dance by your nose? What wonderful things happened to you this past week???

The Secret Adventures of Author Courtney King Walker

I'm thrilled to have a super author on Kidbits today, who writes adventures not only for YA but also for MG. She's agreed not only to answer my questions (which already gets her bonus points in my book) but reveals some secrets from her own childhood.

And here she is. . .


For those of you who don't know who this amazing person is (and you should because she just released a fun MG adventure, MOLLY PEPPER AND THE NIGHT TRAIN), here's a quick summary:

Courtney King Walker grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area building rocket ships and rafts out of cardboard, hoping to make it the moon or at least Niagara Falls. But a trip across the border to Tijuana was as exciting as it ever got, so she decided writing about adventure was the next best thing. She now lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband and four children, and still dreams of flying to the moon. Her YA debut, ON THE FRINGE, was published in 2011 by Lands Atlantic Publishing.

Thanks so much for agreeing to stop by today! And since I'm sure you have some exciting escapade waiting right around the corner, let's just dive right in!

I just finished you newest book, Molly Pepper and the Night Train, and loved Molly and Noah. You take them to the most amazing places, spots most kids would love to go themselves--the abandoned prison and a magical night train. Were you a small adventurer yourself as a child or dream of similar adventures?

I was a dreamer, that’s for sure. In real life I’ve always been overly cautious and afraid to take risks, especially if danger was involved. That didn’t mean I was afraid of my own neighborhood, however; my siblings and I still explored the creeks and hills behind our house together, certain to discover something mysterious. We just made sure we didn’t talk to strangers, and we definitely locked our windows every night (a big imagination can paralyze you, you know).

An adventure I remember very well to this day happened when I was about ten or so. It was a hot summer day, so my older sister and I rode our bikes up to the store to get ice cream cones. While there, we noticed a nervous-looking man getting out of his car and start to pace around the front entrance of the store for a minute, checking over his shoulder with a nervous look on his face. He then dropped something like a package into a garbage can before driving away. We thought that seemed a little odd, but were really convinced something was up when another man arrived five minutes later to retrieve the same package out of the garbage can! It most definitely was Russian correspondence or a drug deal—something very dangerous, at least. The cops, of course disagreed; they thought we made the whole thing up!

How frustrating! And I'm sure you and your sister were right...probably would have thwarted some secret plot. If only the cops had listened. I'm guessing from this, you had a nose for mystery from beginning on. When you sit down to write, do you already know what and how the clues will be hidden or do the ideas fall into place as you write? (I guess this is almost one of those panster or ploster questions, isn't it?)

All the right clues in the right place come after the first draft, otherwise my brain couldn’t handle it! I just get the story down after a very loose outline, and then when I revise, that’s when all the fun ideas and clues start popping up and I put them where they are supposed to go! I guess you could say I’m a little of both. I need some structure, but too much makes me feel like writing is the worst chore in the world.

If only writing were always easy. What is your favorite part about creating a story? And what would you rather eat worms than do?

Coming up with the initial idea and then connecting myself to the setting and characters is the most fun. I learned the hard way that I can’t write something that sounds good on paper but has no connection to me, whatsoever. I need to visualize and feel and experience the setting and characters like they were pulled out of my own life, otherwise it’s like I’m writing a product description for a catalogue. So, the research (meaning going home to visit my favorite places) is a huge deal and the most fun. For instance, eating my favorite doughnuts to understand Molly’s passion wasn’t all that bad!

As far as the second question, I hate hate hate bridging the big gaps of time in between the last section I wrote and what I want to write next. I’ve learned that in order not to neglect my family life I have to put writing second and my family first. That means stepping away from my story, even when I really have a great groove going, and then coming back to it days or weeks later, trying to find my enthusiasm and rhythm again.

Now, I'm going to ask some fun, quick questions. What were you favorite books while growing up?

I have so many. I loved Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, even Agatha Christie’s books. I guess I’ve always loved mysteries. I also loved Watership Down, The Westing Game, The Hobbit, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.

What book are you reading right now?

I just finished an amazing YA sci-fi/romance called A Thousand Pieces of You, by Claudia Gray. It’s so good! You must read it.

When you aren’t writing, what do you like to do?

I love reading and learning about new things by researching new ideas or techniques. I love baking but also eating what I bake, so I try to keep the baking to a minimum; however I have a weak spot for homemade pies and delicious doughnuts (not the cheap supermarket kind). I also love organizing, listening to music, and watching movies.

Mmmm donuts, pies and movies...sounds wonderful to me! Well, I don't want to keep you from any of that (especially the donut researching). Thanks for stopping by!

You can find more about Courtney at:

And of course, we can't leave without giving a short peek at her latest book! Head on over to Bookworm for Kids for my thoughts on it AND there's a fun giveaway running, which you might just want to enter as well!

Hidden somewhere in the fog of the San Francisco bay lies Blue Rock Island, home to the bay area’s two best-kept secrets: Bell’s Bluff, the old, abandoned prison on one side of the island, and the Night Train, a mysterious train ride on the other. When twelve-year-old Molly Pepper receives a secret invitation promising a night of magic and adventure aboard the Night Train, she is skeptical. In her experience, most promises prove too good to be true. The fact that she lost her mom is proof enough.

Still, Molly gives hope another chance. Together with her loyal friend, Noah Wonderly, they sneak out of the house and follow a string of clues leading to the Night Train. But when the train stops at Bell's Bluff, Molly discovers the real reason she was invited. There, she starts to wonder if hope and magic not only fix broken promises; but make you believe in them again.

You can find this at. . .

And don't forget the Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway