Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Feature: Belonging
Twice in the past week, I got into the car and heard stories on NPR about why teens become terrorists. Twice in the past week, I heard one factor that made perfect sense.

If kids don't feel they belong, they'll look for belongingness somewhere else. It's not charismatic leaders. It's not mental illness. These factors may play a role in some cases, but if you're looking for an underlying cause that's a frequent common denominator, look no further than basic human needs.

We all want to belong, and we don't grow out of it. How many of us have ever left a job -- or wanted to -- because the people we worked with created a toxic environment? Conversely, how many of us have stayed at a job we didn't love because we loved the people?

Belonging. Being a part of something. Something that matters. Something important. Something that makes us feel less alone. A sense of belonging keeps loneliness at bay and prolongs life.

I teach my students that the parent-child relationship is a child's first social relationship. For better or for worse, it models what human interaction is supposed to look like, and teaches kids what being a part of something bigger is supposed to feel like (much to their dismay when they're teenagers). I'm not saying that kids who join terrorist cells were parented badly -- some were, some weren't. But, somewhere along the way, in a variety of places and for a variety of reasons, many of those kids lost their sense of belonging.

Our country is filled with people who feel outside the circle. And it's really not that hard to bring them in. Dr. Michele Borba created a list of 100 Ways to Let Kids Know You Care, but what struck me in reading this list -- in addition to how easy some of the things are to do -- was how much they mean to big kids and old kids, too. A smile. A compliment. Eye contact. An offer to help.

This weekend, go forth and be kind. Help someone feel that they matter, that they belong somewhere. That they're less outside the circle than they feel as though they are.

It only takes a moment, but the impact may be bigger than you think.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

6 Questions from the Porch Swing for Jim Alessio

I love Matt Czuchry, so I have mixed feelings
about "casting" him as Jim, but except
for the eye color, he's got the look.
Poor Jim. Readers consistently tell me how much they dislike him, and nearly everyone (including characters in the books!) wonders how a nice girl like Angel ended up with a guy like him.

Jim's not all bad, though, and while Marita may have good reason to resent him, Angel clearly loves him and Charli seems to be developing a meaningful relationship with him.

Since Jim never gets to share his thoughts in Casting the First Stone or Chasing a Second Chance, I thought he'd be a great choice for this week's porch swing interview.

Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
JA: At work.

What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
JA: That I see the best of Marita in Charli. God knows she looks just like her, which is a bitter pill for me to swallow, but the stubbornness and intelligence and certainty that are so annoying in Marita seem somehow tempered in Charli. It's a tough world, and I'm glad she's no shrinking violet.

What are your thoughts on children?
JA: Obviously, those thoughts have changed in the past thirteen years. Now that I'm in a loving, committed marriage, I'm anxious to build a family with Angel.

What regrets do you have?
JA: That I let my parents convince me that my future was more important than acknowledging Charli. It's clearly evident that Marita and I would not have ended up together, as they predicted, but now that I'm a father, I realize the depth of my betrayal to my daughter. Marita and I will never see eye to eye, and I don't think I owe her anything, but I owe Charli a great deal. 

Whom do you admire? My mother. Right or wrong, she is steadfast in her opinion and her determination. She never wavers.

Do you think Marita's a good mother? So far. But little kids are easy. Teenagers are more challenging. Given the way Marita managed her own teen years, I stand by my concern that Charli needs a stabilizing influence as she navigates that same time frame, and I think Angel and I can provide that.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Chasing a Second Chance Celebrates Christmas in July

A few of the things that will be hiding
behind Doors #1, #2 and #3 at
my Christmas in July Facebook party
this Sunday, 7/24 from 3-5 pm EST.
This morning, I finally stopped procrastinating and pulled out all the goodies I've been gathering as prizes for my Christmas in July Facebook party this Sunday afternoon from 3 to 5pm EST. Because of my I need to see it style, I never truly realize what I have until I have it all laid out in front of me. I had a lot of fun putting together doors 1-3 (see below) and my grand, end-of-event prize.

If you've never been to a Facebook party, I invite you to try this one. You can drop in any time between 3 and 5pm and stay as long as you'd like. You can dress however you please (we won't see you) -- I considered wearing Christmas pjs or a Christmas sweater, but it's currently much too hot in Central PA for either of those wardrobe choices.

Paige Boggs of Electively Paige, who created the banner at the bottom of this post, will be assisting me so that no guests feel neglected. She's also the game girl and, unlike real world parties, you won't have to run to the bathroom to hide if you don't like playing games. Besides, Paige's games are very non-threatening, and there are Christmas-themed prizes involved.

Photo: Michelle Dean
The theme is Christmas in July (to celebrate my book, Chasing a Second Chance, which is set at Christmastime), but the format is Let's Make a Deal. The winner of each game will choose what's behind "Door #1," "Door #2" or "Door #3" and will win whatever is behind the door he or she selects. There are no gag gifts, and all prizes must go; anything that doesn't get given away during the party will be added to the grand prize at the end.

It's a little ironic that Facebook is making this party possible, but also making it difficult for me to reach the people I want to invite (which is why I'm posting this blog). Because there are no space limitations, this is truly an event where "the more, the merrier!" applies. If you can drop by for even just a few minutes, I'd love to "see" you. Just click on the the words "Christmas in July" anywhere in this post, or click on the date and time under the banner below.

And just think -- unlike the real Christmas in December, you have no last-minute holiday shopping to do this week!

Hope to see you Sunday.

July 24, 3-5pm EST

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Feature: Sleepy?

How'd you sleep last night? Did you fall asleep right away? Wake up in the middle of the night?

If you had trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep, you're not alone. But did you know that what you do before falling asleep and what you do when you wake up in the middle of the night can impact your sleep success?

Read this article from the Wall Street Journal to find out what role television, food and sunglasses could play in a good night's sleep.

Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

6 Questions from the Porch Swing for Gina

Gina D'Agostino took over the porch swing back in February, but I didn't get to ask her anything. So, she's back today, answering a few  questions, and making an announcement for me.

Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
Gina: Working, partying or spending time with my family. Italians are very big on family.

What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
Gina: I like my crazy job. I've been workin' at Foster Motors since I moved here from New Jersey. Those guys -- and Angel -- were my first friends. I've watched them get married, watched their kids grow up, bailed a couple of 'em out of jail. It's like a big, extended family.

What are your thoughts on children?
Gina: Love 'em. I have tons of nieces and nephews and love being Aunt Gina. 

What regrets do you have?
Gina: Not a one. They're a waste of time. 

Whom do you admire?
Gina: I don't know if I admire her, but I think Angel deserves some kinda award for putting up with Jimbo. I know she says he's a good guy, but I just don't see it.

Are you currently dating anyone?
Gina: Nah, not right now.

And what about that announcement?
Gina: This week, Casting the First Stone has been spending some time on the Amazon Top 100 list for Contemporary Christian Fiction! Lisa's pretty excited. Chasing a Second Chance hasn't made it there yet -- maybe because I'm not in it as much. Just sayin'.

Monday, July 11, 2016

How Long Should that Electronic Tether Be?

I've had the pleasure of being a contributor at for quite a while now. Last week, I wrote a Tech Talk piece that I'm especially proud of. Since I'm heading out of town today and time is short, I'm letting it do double duty and posting it below for your reading pleasure today. 

See you Wednesday. :-)

Lewisburg, PA Streelight
via Citizens Electric
Last week, I read an article suggesting that we should stalk our kids on social media. Okay, the author didn’t actually use the word “stalk,” but when we’re advised to be on every platform our kids are on to see what they’re posting, when they’re posting and what they’re posting about, I have to wonder if this is parenting advice or spy school.
While I agree that children need checks and balances when it comes to social media, and that vigilance is important with younger consumers of technology, I’m not a big fan of the “follow them everywhere” school of thought. In my opinion, if a child is old enough to be on social media, he or she is old enough to have a certain amount of freedom there — freedom that should increase with age and experience. I find it ironic that some of the people who suggest that we shouldn’t trust our kids as far as their electronic tethers will carry them also post memes from “the good old days” when the streetlights called us home. Our parents didn’t follow us everywhere. Why should we do that to our kids?
Please understand — I’m not a fan of unfettered technological freedom either. In my mind, there’s a minimum age of entry for each social media platform. Different levels of maturity are required to manage Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (to name just a few). But, in my opinion, the best way to help kids navigate the online world is the same way they navigate the real world — step-by-step, with direct assistance at first and with less help as they demonstrate their ability to manage the virtual world.
My daughter got her first cell phone at nine, at least three years sooner than we’d planned. An injury at basketball practice convinced my husband and I that she needed an emergency contact option, shortening our timeline dramatically.
The phone came with rules. No texting. No phone in the bedroom after bedtime. No phone at family meals. Always answer when Mom or Dad calls, or risk losing the phone.
She was so excited to get the phone, she agreed to everything, and although some of those rules are now laughable (no texting??), many simply became habit (we still don’t allow phones at mealtimes — for the kids or the adults). As time went on, some rules relaxed, some required further discussion and some faded once she demonstrated her ability to handle the technology she’d been handed. And, as technology improved and became more ubiquitous, new freedoms (and apps) entered the picture and we had to adjust accordingly.
Make no mistake — that phone wasn’t for her. It was for us. She just happened to be in possession of it.
But it was also a teachable moment. At nine, she was willing to accept the rules we laid out. Over time and as she entered her teens, the phone became a tool that was useful for more than communicating over airwaves, ushering in other kinds of communication as well: discussions about rules, respect, safety and independence.
Technology is a given in our world. By trusting our children with these tools in developmentally appropriate ways, we allow them to experiment and make mistakes while we’re still there to catch them and help them if they falter. They develop freedom in this realm on our watch, under our supervision, so that by the time they need privacy and secrecy as teenagers they know what they’re doing and how to handle themselves. Just as we let go of our toddlers’ hands a little at a time as they learn to walk, we can do the same as we let our kids tiptoe into technology. And just as they’ll never learn to walk on their own if we never let go, they’ll struggle to navigate both technology and the social world that comes with it if we’re constantly looking over their shoulders. They’ll never learn how to trust themselves if we don’t trust them first, a little at a time.
So, be knowledgeable. Know what’s out there. Make rules. Be vigilant. Listen–to the news, but mostly, to your kids. Explain the rules and be ready to adjust them as your kids grow old enough to handle more freedom. Ask them questions about things you’ve heard. Often, the worst-case scenarios we fear aren’t a part of our kids’ worlds anyway.
It’s hard to give our kids freedom. We want to protect them and keep them safe from all the bad stuff out there. Ironically, the best way to do that is to offer freedom a little at a time, and arm them with knowledge every step of the way.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Friday Feature: Success and Happiness

Source: Happify
Have you ever had a rough day, only to find yourself laughing in spite of yourself when someone catches you off guard? Alternatively, have you ever wanted to do bodily harm to someone who blithely told you to "cheer up" when you were upset about something?

Can we control our happiness?

As it turns out, yes, we can -- at least in part. Although genetics and personality factor into how happy we naturally are, nearly half of our happiness is within our control. The ways in which we think, feel and act form attitudes that contribute to our overall state of mind.

In addition to simply making us feel good, happiness can also contribute to our overall success. Placing too much emphasis on end results and not enough on enjoying where we are in the here and now is detrimental not only to our happiness, but to our success as well.

When you think about it, it's kind of nice that something that feels so good can also be good for us. And, the fact that we have an element of control over it is a nice bonus as well.

So, what are you waiting for? Don't worry. Be happy.