The Hidden Hearts

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If you look very closely, there’s a cutout in the sky and reflection. Can you find them?

On a wonderful vacation recently I started seeing things. No, really. First, after swimming with the turtles, I was resting and taking photos when I felt one in particular might be special. Get it this direction, a little voice whispered. After I peeked at the frame, I saw why. As you gaze into the pool of water as it reflects the sky, you’ll see a shape. A heart. And its twin smiled at me through the windswept clouds as a slight drizzle began.

Two hearts.

The next day, on a boat tour around the island, a lush landscape came into view set off by high mountains and sheer cliffs carved by volcanoes and weathered over the centuries. The orange-brown hues offset the seemingly endless shades of greens. I know some cultures have thirty words for green. This must be a place touched by each one, held in a historic time-delay for us to see. As we pulled into full view, the waves kept leaping higher. I held tight to the railing and, voila, another large heart in a grove of treetops in a contrasting shade of green appeared. Then, as the boat drifted further in, another valley appeared with still another heart grove of trees.

Two hearts.

Then I was playing mini-golf with our family, my son scored his first hole in one. It grew hot and we moved slowly as the palm fronds and bucolic greens swayed in a refreshing breeze. I managed to keep, ahem, most of my balls on target and out of the water features. The urge for perfectionism and mild sibling rivalry slipped away as one carefully plotted his swing. Then, the other just hit for the fun of it all. Like the character Tigger would play golf. I smiled at my husband and I swept dampness from my forehead. I removed my hat, looking at the skyline. I gasped slightly. My husband asked why. A large, white heart-shaped cloud was nestled, and interlocked, with a light gray one.

Two hearts.

I was seeing hearts in various forms all over the island. What was going on? Was there a hidden message within, like a secret code I needed to uncover? Was there some elusive blessing, just awaiting the right moment?

Even the plants I saw held heart like features.

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Then I started thinking in twos. I’ve been blogging here for two years. We have two wonderful boys and, of course, there’s the natural thoughts of love and fidelity with my wonderful husband. All many blessings, indeed.

But I want to stay attuned for the other hearts knocking. The little nuances that dance in front of me like the ocean swells or light tropical breezes. Just waiting for me to enjoy them and notice their importance.

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News And Class Awards!

Time for some fun updates before we launch into summer. And I mean launch! I’m working with the technical experts to assemble the last pieces for the new website. I’ll be sure to post about the transition as we get closer to launch.

Awards announcement for my favorite classroom!

I’ve been helping to teach a unit about the elements of fiction and got to work with wonderful tweens on their first stories. It’s been so rewarding and I love their enthusiasm and creativity! I especially loved seeing their progression to finish. Their teacher, Mrs. Root, is amazing too for taking this on at a young age. But her kids were ready and here’s the results:

Best Drawing  – TIE – Chloe for Shrinkey and Terrina for War

Best Title – TIE – Logan for The Spider Apocalypse and Akashi for Dancing Hamsters

Best Progression from Draft to Final Version – Brayden for The Story of the Hidden Treasure

Best Story About Kindness – Tristan for The Braces

Best Portal – Joey for An Unforgettable Trip

Best Humor – George for Cap Turad

Best Twist at the End – Ellie for Three Days Left

Best Improved Descriptions – Will for The Pirate Invasion

Best Detail With Story – David for The Outbreak

Giveaways coming!

I could use your feedback on my first ever giveaway. You can choose between:

  • Cool gem crafts for summer fun
  • A wonderful jewelry box to hide your treasures
  • A quote-filled umbrella (with book quotes on the outside) for the book-lover in your life (or yourself!)

What would you like to see? I’d love your feedback here in the comments below, or on my social media links.

 

Enjoy Some Wonder This May

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Photo: Charlotte Bird

With May just around the corner, I thought it was time for some wonder on display! Faeries remind me of the simplicity of childhood, and also keeping open to wonder in life. I was a lot like this little girl growing up, looking for the stars winking in the sky, waiting for something amazing to happen, or wishing all my stuffed animals would come alive at night.

One May tradition I want to try this year is leaving flower bouquets on neighbors or friends’ doors. Precious!

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Photo: lfvaustin.blogspot.com

Host a Faerie party! Some gardens and locations have faerie parties this upcoming week. Be on the lookout in your area!

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Photo: May Day Faerie Festival at Spoutwood Farm in Pennsylvania.

Buy a tiara and host a tea party! I got to interview some princesses recently at Disneyland, about the magic of wearing one. See it here:

I love Gail Carson Levine’s books. Whether dragons, fairy tales, or even a fairy quest, they’re terrific! You could read Ella Enchanted, then watch the movie, and discuss how they changed the story for a kids book club this summer.

If you just want a little faerie magic, try these pop-ups by Cicely Mary Barker which are so charming.

 

And my friend Ralene Burke has a new faerie series called Bellanok, too!

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Visit my Pinterest here for more ideas with whimsy:

Give, Pray, Laugh – Helping Others Can Reduce Stress

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Part Two in the series 10 Stress Knock-Outs For The New Year

 Can helping others really lift some of the stress we feel or is it just an old wives’ tale?

I gotta tell you, it really does work wonders. If I could write it in a book title it would go something like Give-Pray-Laugh.

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Letting go of clutter frees your mind to express creativity and be more whole with your inner self in daily activities. I’ve set monthly goals to wipe out a corner that’s causing me to trip because, well, it’s not just a physical distraction, is it? Each corner of clutter acts like someone throwing a weight at me when I walk by. It just pulls me down. It costs something in the economy of emotions that I’m not willing to give it any longer.

The boost: Driving over to the donation center nearby, realizing some of these things will be a huge blessing to others is a great reality-check. After the wildfires, when we had no possessions or permanent home, these places were generous to us as we grappled with getting temporary things in place. I relive that moment a bit each time we drive over, and not in a bad way. It makes my kids realize our gifts in life, too. Plus the group “ahhhh” when the garage door lifts now is audible!

Pray

Years ago I had a prayer mentor when I was at a critical juncture making decisions whether to go work full time with teens or keep working in corporate life. I was paired up with an experienced missionary and would go walking or have tea at her home each week. I have a lot to thank her for, in teaching me to bring up the small stuff in life, and how to connect people’s needs with prayer. Sometimes you feel a bit helpless wanting to offer support through a medical trial or life change. It really lifts the burden when you can give the worries of life up to the Lord and admit that although you don’t understand why bad things happen, there’s still hope in holding the hand of the One who does.

Favorite thing: Grab a friend and go walking and bring your prayers with you! Start by thanking God for the beautiful flowers or clouds or whatever you see in your path. Then mention each person by name and both of you can pray through their requests. It gives me tingles thinking of how this simple thing can bless those you care about. And this is great with kids as they battle the stresses of puberty too.

Laugh

Laughter can immediately transform a glum moment to a glimmering one! Especially when children are involved. No matter your slice of life, you can connect with little ones by volunteering at your church, working with a mother’s group (try Mothers of Preschoolers – it’s great!), or hanging out with kids in youth group, take the chance. It will change your life!

What’s best? Decide what you need the most and go for it. Want laughter without strings? Little ones are the best. They always seem to have limitless hugs to give, too. Need more of a challenge? Take on the high-energy elementary grades and mentor a child struggling to read and find success. They appreciate each gesture, and always find ways to surprise you. Then there’s the preteen, or tween, group. One minute you’re laughing at a science experiment and the next discussing big issues in life. There’s a tangible moment of “wow” when you help open their eyes to the universe in a new way. Don’t be afraid to connect with teens, either. I love working with both groups and hearing from them that it makes a difference.

When you connect with giving, praying, and laughing, it makes you a better person. Time slows. Smiles grow. Stress fades to gray. And, yes, joy bubbles from within. Find and connect with your outlet soon.


 

Contest update:

Thanks to all those who entered or offered opinions! It really helped! (Drumroll) Here are the final contenders for the blog name on my new website:

  • Hidden Treasures
  • The Magical Inlet
  • The Thorn and The Vine

++One problem: I came up with all of these, so I’m giving a popsicle party for the fifth-grade classroom that’s volunteered for helping with final selection. I’d still love your vote so please chime in on the comments below!

+++We’ll be having lots of giveaways on the new blog so I’ll save the gifts for the next one, no worries there!


 

Image: Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Top 10 Favorite Tween Fantasy Books

Elizabeth Van Tassel, resilience expert and fantasy writer, in her snowiest setting of white backdrop in honor of those snowed in this week, walks you through some favorites stories for boys and girls ages ten and up, and younger ones that read above their grades. From gripping plots and great locations with S.E. Grove, amazing magic from Lissa Evans, and unbelievable dragons with Gail Carson Levine these books have many hours of fun to offer. And there’s a few you may not know yet, too. Hope you enjoy this video blog (VLOG) and let me know what books you enjoy too! Stay warm!

 

If you enjoyed her reviews here, connect with Elizabeth on line below.

Social Media Links:

For more information and to follow her blogs, check out: https://elizabethvantassel.wordpress.com/blog/

For tips on living a more resilient life, check out her website here: https://elizabethvantassel.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElizVanTassel

Instagram: www.instagram.com/elizabethvantassel/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/36179148-elizabeth-van-tassel

Stolen Candy, Second Chances

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What if your beautiful sweet moment was chased away by trying to be perfect. No way! Let’s stop that and make art instead!

Thoughts for today’s teens, and anyone needing fresh perspective.

The first day of acrylic painting instructions in high school, someone ate my main project. No joking.

We showed up with large canvasses, wide as I could stretch my arms. A 3×5 index card. And piles of very colorful salt-water taffy in wax-paper wrappers.

Then the assignment: don’t eat the sweets, blow them up huge on the canvass! First, we glued them to the cards and made notes of the lighting so we could work on it for a few weeks. Then we carefully watched proportion and sketched the lines, shadows, crevasses, and contours onto the canvas. I decided to highlight one huge candy with two right behind it. Awesome! Who wouldn’t want to fall into that picture?

Next, sketching with a first layer of paint. Then it had to dry overnight.

The following day I returned and all my supplies were on hand. Large canvass, check. The 3×5 card, check. Paints and supplies, check. Candy wrappers, check. But the candy itself was gone! The rest of the class laughed. Someone had eaten my final project.

Ever feel that way?

Everything’s so not okay. On the outside, you make it look like you’re cruising along, meeting your deadlines, playing sports, hanging out with friends. But inside, there’s a gnawing feeling that just won’t go away.

A raw spot that needs more. More out of life. More honesty and less lying. More sense out of the crazy jumbled up feelings erupting like Mt. Vesuvius inside of you. Less how life “should” be and more how to deal with what really is. Imperfect parents. Teachers with agendas. Friends that waffle in their loyalty more often than your shoes come untied. No one will talk about something because it’s just easier to keep busy than deal with THAT topic.

Yet the pain is real. The fringes of those thoughts or memories dance like constant paper cuts on your fingertips.

Or like someone had eaten your final project.

Ouch.

I understand the constant call of perfection’s tune. And how deeply impossible it is to ever be answered consistently. Like having a pet piranha. Always hungry.

I know the feeling of being stuck in others’ choices or poor ones of my own. The worst. Like being behind a tar truck on the freeway with all the fumes pouring inside your car. Cough. Hack.

Cut back to the candy. So how did I end up with an A in the class, a great painting, and being in the yearbook with it?

I improvised. I borrowed others’ candy and made due. My painting was a bit more impressionistic, but the colors and feeling were vibrant. We all laughed at the drama of the missing candy in the end.

My point is that sometimes the process is more important than anything else. It’s a season in life, not the entirety of it. Don’t fall prey to others’ idealism that says you have to be perfect now. Really, no one can.

Only One did, and it’s almost His birthday next month, too. He’s a great one to search out for answers that bring constancy and depth to life’s ups and downs.

And don’t forget to grab your paintbrush and keep pressing on, knowing it’s all art in the end.

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Elizabeth Van Tassel, resiliency expert and fantasy writer, has really lived a life with diamonds, wildfires, and miracles. A wildfire survivor and gemologist, she winds tales of wondrous gems and destructive loss into fantastic fantasy for the next generation and beyond. She also speaks, gives classes, and blogs weekly for adults and kids about living a resilient life. You can catch up with her favorite gems and daily insights on Facebook.

Image courtesy of antpkr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 

 

The Walk of Gratitude

Welcome to MakeUsSmile.com. The kids and I made a gratitude site this summer in thanks for good things after the fires.

Welcome to MakeUsSmile.com. The kids and I made a gratitude site this summer in thanks for good things after the fires.

After finishing my manuscript for my fantasy where the main character is a wildfire survivor, I was talking with a friend about those first weeks, months, and years—what it was like. And the words spilled out about all who helped us. Suddenly I knew what we could do with long hours on hot days this summer. We could each use our gifts to not focus on ourselves but on others’ goodness in a new way.

Jonathan with his engineering side, Chief Tech and Director.

Joey as Chief of Fun with dances and camera angle insights.

Mom writing some of it and helping edit the message to make it clear.

Dad as chief audience, too.

This is your official invitation to come visit MakeUsSmile.com, a fun website where we thank people, companies, and organizations that were so helpful after the wildfires took everything in 2007. With our Camp Gratitude this summer, the boys used their aptitude for technology in a great visual thank-you note.

It’s not easy to start over, but with the kindness of a few, it has multiplied into much. Don’t ever think that a small gesture to someone who’s broken and looking for the new path forward goes unnoticed. We will forever be grateful to all. And Joey’s dancing party is not to be missed!

Bless you in your new beginnings!