Holding Patterns

How do you begin a blog post you never wanted to write? How do you type the very words you never wanted to see again? How do you convince yourself that there’s anything good or fair or right in the world when you get the news that your loved one has cancer?

Again.

I don’t have the words. My heart has broken into a thousand million billion pieces and I…don’t have the words.

Nate went for his yearly oncology visit last Friday- 4 years cancer-free (or so we thought). Instead, we were met with a giant, nasty surprise – spots on his liver. Spots that weren’t there six months ago. Spots that have no business being there now.

There’s no way to describe the cold dread that washed over me at hearing the news – the literal icy sensation that swept from my head to my toes when the doctor said the word ‘cancer’ aloud.

“No, no, no,” I wanted to scream. “We did this already. We beat this. He’s healthy. We did this years before the pandemic. We shouldn’t have to do it now, again, in the middle of a global pandemic!”

But cancer doesn’t care what we think, how we feel, or what our plans are. So once again, our schedules have been cleared, and we’re in yet another holding pattern, burning fuel, awaiting test result after test result, waiting for some direction on where to land and what kind of crash to prepare for.

Hold your loved ones close, my friends. It only takes a moment for everything to change.

Belonging

We almost bought a brand new house today. Drove an hour and a half northeast and spent all day touring a beautiful, half-built, small mansion in a spacious 1-acre wooded lot in the Poconos. Then we deliberated long hours on whether it was right, where we’d put the garden, the pool, the chicken coop, and how we’d arrange each room, whether to finish part of the basement as a play room for the billiard table, the foosball table, and the poker table.

We drove the neighborhood (not that there was much to drive, it’s not even done being built yet) and checked out the other houses in the area. We drove past the schools the kids would go to, and looked up their ratings on Niche. I even moved the money for the down payment into our checking account so we could write a check and get started. It’s fun to dream. It’s exhilarating to imagine new things and new places and new adventures. What could the future hold? Yes, we said! Let’s do this.

And then, five minutes before we were to sign the papers and hand over the money, pure terror gripped my heart.

Reality came crashing in. This isn’t my house. This isn’t my neighborhood. This isn’t where I belong! Help! Someone take me home!

*Cue the waterworks.*

We stayed in the area, had lunch, discussed our options extensively. I proceeded to spend the next two hours alternately in tears, convincing myself we shouldn’t do it, then recovering and convincing myself we should, then crying again at the thought of leaving our close-knit community where we’ve lived for almost 18 years. When we bought our house in 2003, we planned to stay for maybe 5 – 10 years. Introduce children to the mix, and it never quite seems the right time to move.

Eventually, we stayed here so long that everything is just…comfortable. I like our little house. (I wish we had more space.) I like our little yard. (I wish we had more land.) We have some of the best neighbors, one family we even fondly call our neighbros. (I wish the noisy ones behind us would move out…or at least learn to be more considerate.)

But our tiny school district has some of the most caring, wonderful teachers I’ve ever known – people I’m glad teach my children every day, but also people I’ve come to think of as friends myself. They live and work here, in this small community. And three blocks away? We have a lovely little park that’s home to the local community partnership’s Christmas tree lighting, fundraiser dinners, and monthly farmers’ markets. Our community library (and my part-time job there) would be a thing of the past. The coworkers I’ve come to know and love, I’d never see again.

We often catch some of our favorite neighbors walking past our house on their daily route – walking, walking, always walking. And these neighbors are special. Because they’ve shared in our pain (and our joy) with regards to a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. And that’s a special kind of bond, too. Not many people know what it’s like to travel that path.

Here, we have the kind of neighbors who will pick up your kids from school at the drop of a hat if needed, those who will watch your kids if you need to make an emergency trip to the vet (and our geriatric doggo is already older than most dogs his breed live to see), who will mow your lawn because you’ve been taking care of a sick spouse or child, who will stop by with fresh bread for no reason at all, who will bring you homemade soup when you’re sick (or homemade chili when your kitchen is out of commission because the entire thing is gutted and being renovated).

Here, our children have friends and familiar bike routes and sledding hills. They have parks and schools within walking distance. And even though they haven’t been able to see their friends in person in over a year (minus a few masked visits on the back patio), this is where I want to emerge from our quarantine. This is where I want to celebrate the miracle of science and medicine with our friends and neighbors. This is where I want to have patio parties and barbecues.

It’s hard to give all that up for the bells and whistles of a beautiful new house with its shiny floors and inviting white farm sink. (It was a beautiful sink.) How could we trade the comfort of a community we love so dearly for a brand new place that feels sterile by comparison? In a time when Covid has most of us needing comfort more than ever, I feel like a move to someplace new (though deeply desired on some level) would make me feel somehow more lost.

And so we drove home in silence, my husband disappointed and frustrated, me sniffling from the passenger’s seat. I ran out of tissues. There was a lot of crying. I couldn’t even feel relief once we’d made the decision not to buy because I knew I was disappointing the husband, and that’s a whole other level of internal grief.

All this to say – here? Here, I feel a sense of belonging I haven’t felt many places in my life. And maybe it won’t always be that way. Maybe someday the time will be right to move. Maybe now I can stop feeling this incessant urge to pick up and go. Maybe.

But for now? For now, this is where I belong.

Privilege

Not going to lie. The banning of a certain someone from social media this week has me letting out a breath I didn’t know was holding. (I’m a YA author. You knew I had to use that phrase eventually, right?) There is still so much work to be done to right our listless ship of a country, but I’m an optimist at heart, and I’d like to think we can do it together.

In expressing my relief at today’s turn of events after my anger and horror at the events of two days ago on Facebook, I was accused of being an angry person. It was suggested that I’d be much happier if I turned off the news entirely and spent more time with my family.

The person who made this suggestion is a friend. A friend who means well. But ultimately a friend who has more privilege in the tip of his pinky finger than many people will ever have in their entire lives. He’s white. He’s male. He’s heterosexual. He’s Christian. He’s financially secure.

By suggesting I turn off the news to experience happiness, he’s saying that it’s okay to turn our backs on the millions of people in need across the country and around the world. He’s implying four-thousand American lives lost to Covid-19 a day isn’t worth being informed about.

He’s insinuating that we don’t need to know about families separated at the border, about women in those same camps being sterilized against their will, about Congress trying to remove healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic.

He’s saying we don’t need to hear about about the government’s refusal to care for its people, about its refusal to grant extended unemployment, to ensure its people have food and a place to live, to ensure access to clean water (Flint, MI still doesn’t have it). Never mind that the government is removing LGBTQ+ protections, packing the courts, or that dozens of counties across the U.S. are gerrymandered to ensure the minority party continues to rule as long as possible. He’s implying that a government not actually working for the people isn’t a problem for him. And it’s not. For the reasons I stated earlier.

He’s implying that those of us who do care enough to follow along in the news, those of us who call ourself activists because we attend peaceful protests* and write letters to our elected officials, don’t spend time with our families. We can’t, right? You can’t possibly spend time with your family and do all those pesky other things to fight for democracy and human lives.

Thing is? I wasn’t angry when I posted about smiling when I read that someone was banned from social media. But I became angry with my friend’s words. Turning my back so I can “be happy” in ignorance isn’t better than facing head on the ugliness this country has wrought in the last few years.

I want to see my children grow up in a world that is fair and free. In a country that embraces different cultures and traditions, where people in need are welcomed with open arms and given the opportunity to rest, recover, and thrive. I want my family to know that I’ve done everything I can do to make that future for them. And that they must do the same for others.

Because, and here’s the whole point:

THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE THIS PRIVILEGE.

Full Stop.

We must be informed, seek truth, and fight for the things that are right. Always. Because without knowledge, without truth, ugly, ignorant opinions weigh just as important. And they’re not. Not by a long shot.

If you have privilege, use it. Use it to right the wrongs, to bring light to darkness, to fight the injustices in the world. It’s your duty.

It’s your privilege.

And mine.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

* NOT what took place at the Capitol on Wednesday; that was a mob of homegrown terrorists, not a protest.

Fledgling

Every writer knows one of the very best feelings in the world is the moment a shiny, new idea takes shape in your head, and you can’t shake it. And when that shiny, new idea involves collaborating with your 14-year-old kiddo, it’s even better.

A few months ago, my very artistic and talented daughter had to conceptualize a children’s book as a project for her Family Consumer Science class. (For us old folk, that’s 2020 speak for Home-Ec.) They were covering an early childhood development module, and she decided to create a book to help teach children their colors. Since birds come in all colors of the rainbow, she pitched a book about a bird who wanted to see a rainbow of feathers in the Amazon rainforest. She diligently crafted the proposal and even included a sketch or two. Project complete. (She received a A+, btw.)

This shiny, new idea isn’t that book.

BUT.

It *is* a picture book about a bird and a bird family. And working on it with my daughter is one of the most rewarding experiences any mother could hope to have. A combination of written word and visual art, this project is pure excitement for both of us.

In a time when teens are distant and hanging with the family is a serious faux-pas, I have the opportunity to relish my daughter’s enthusiasm for this project, and her willingness to foray (with me!) into something uncertain, into a project that may or may not come to fruition. I’m soaking in our time together and our collaborative effort to dive whole-heartedly into a creative realm we both adore. Storytelling.

Whether by word or by illustration, books make our lives more colorful, more vibrant, more worth living. They entertain and encourage. They create empathy and interest in the world around us. They enable us to learn from the time we’re in the womb straight through our very oldest years. Storytelling is a craft as old as human existence, a tradition passed down from generation to generation.

Taking part in that tradition by creating stories with my daughter and friend is a privilege I will always treasure. My young fledgling isn’t quite ready to leave the nest just yet, but I hope when she someday does she’ll think on our time together and will be reminded to always reach for those shiny, new ideas.

Stretch those wings, little bird.

Concept art for our upcoming picture book. Want to see more of younger Storms’s art? Follow her on Instagram at @dragonartist06.

Family, Life, and Things that Matter

I missed March, April, and most of May on the blog. I bet you can all guess why.

Wow.

What a heck of a year so far. Global pandemic, hundreds of thousands dead, and so many people refusing to do something as simple as wear a face mask to protect themselves and others. It’s mind-boggling.

Not going to lie, friends. I’ve had my ups and downs handling this over the last few months. As all of you have. Working from home, online schooling for 4th and 8th grades, a 10-year-old with a broken arm (because the pandemic wasn’t terrifying enough on its own…let’s head to a hospital for corrective surgery!), being around my family every single day all day long and never getting a break even though I’m an introvert and desperately, desperately need a few days of quiet…or just a silent house for…like…an hour. Yeah. It’s all been a bit of a challenge.

And I’m sure you’re all in the very same situation. We’re all facing difficult times. Stressful times. Unprecedented times. But it won’t last forever. Years, maybe. But not forever.

So take this time to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Do things with them. Appreciate nature. Enjoy your backyard. (Or your balcony. Or your porch.) Here are a few snapshots from my own life in the past two months. Crazy, yes. But not all bad.

Family puzzles.

Family haircuts. (She’s trusting.)

Finished manuscript. (Book II of The Tarrowburn Prophecies. It’s almost ready!)

Broken arm.

Surgery because the fracture was through the growth plate.

Family karaoke night.

Chickens in the house. Hooray! These little ladies will be earning their keep in about four or five more months.

Backyard garden work.

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New project inspiration!

New truck! (Because the old one left husband stranded 40 miles from home not once, but TWICE. And it’s been 21 years, I guess we’re due.)

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Ingenious Inventions & Fearless Creators

I love art in all its forms. Paintings, sculptures, books, theater, movies? You name it, I can appreciate the work that went into creating it! So naturally I tend to align with other artists in our pursuit of making real the images from our minds. One such artist is one my very best and most talented friends for twenty-plus years. I feel so lucky I’ve gotten to watch her create one of the coolest toys I’ve seen to date. Meet MUB and his super fun Pittsburgh-area creator, Jess Bieber!

MUB is the Monster Under the Bed! No other monsters allowed!

LRS: Hi Jess, thanks so much for agreeing to appear on the blog today. I love the imaginative world, and I really think creating in any of the arts is currently one of the most undervalued talents in our society. I am in such awe of what you’ve done with MUB! I want to hear all about it.

LRS: First, what *is* MUB?

MUB says hello!

JB: MUB is a a spunky, fearless, courage-boosting plush pal for kids. He likes humans and their pets, but he does NOT get along well with other monsters. He is soft and furry so he’s great for cuddling, has a light-up charm on his collar to illuminate dark spaces, and his eyebrows are repositionable so he can be easily put into friendly-mode or defender mode, depending on your mood.

LRS: And what spurred you to create him? How did you realize this is something kids need? And something that might make parents’ lives a little easier? (Because, let’s face it—anything that helps keep the kiddos *stay* in bed at night is the miracle we need.)

JB: Family is at the center of our lives, so we like to create things with heart and feeling. One of the cool things about having kids is that you get to see the world through their eyes. It reminds you of how you used to be. Do you remember how crazy-active our imaginations were when we were young?

No matter how many generations you go back, there has always been a legitimate fear of the dark, unknown spaces at nighttime. Places like a closet or beneath the bed are mysterious, eerie voids in which hungry ghouls hide and wait for the moment when you turn off the lights. I used to take a running leap to my mattress so nothing could reach from under the bed to grab my feet.

What’s worse is that there is no real guarantee that being cocooned in a blanket pulled all the way up to your eyeballs is an effective barrier against any spooky creatures that could be lurking about. That’s when MUB comes to the rescue. He likes to be the only monster in the room so he scares all the others away.

And yeah, it’s so nice when kids can go to bed without a hitch. I’m hoping MUB will help parents out a bit, so maybe they can use that free quiet time to do something fun like catch up on laundry or dishes.

LRS: I don’t think most people realize what it takes for a startup company to create a physical product like MUB. I know *I* didn’t realize it until I’d heard all about your trials and tribulations throughout the last couple of years. Can you share a little about the process?

JB: Haha, books and books could be written about all this stuff.

It’s been an interesting journey, for sure. Conceptualizing an idea over coffee with your business partners is the fun and easy part. Following through and discovering the time and financial barriers to entry are more challenging. But if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right. That means vetting many vendors to find the right quality match. Safety testing – CE (international), PA, OH, and US. Copyright, trademark, ISBN and UPC codes, shipping and customs, taxes, packaging and shipping, website design, photography and videography… and not taking a paycheck the whole time.

I think it’s a fun lesson in learning how to be scrappy and prove you’ve got the grit to keep moving forward. Luckily I have the best partners and we won’t stop reaching for the stars because we definitely are driven to get our ideas out there into the world.

Friendly and fierce, MUB is always ready to protect his friends!

LRS: As a parent, I love everything about MUB, and you created him. So tell me a little about you and your history in art, illustration, and design.

JB: Aww, well thanks for loving MUB so much. He really is a fun character and we look forward to building in more helpful monster friends as his club and brand grows over time. He might not like monsters now, but soon he’ll let down his guard a bit to make room for some good, friendly monsters while he still chases off the imaginary, menacing ones.

I’ve loved making art since I could pick up a crayon and draw murals on the walls of the house. Angry as they were about the destruction, my parents were always awesome about nurturing my creativity and I decided to focus on illustration and graphic design in college. I was lucky enough to work for some really cool companies where I could develop my talents further, but, like my business partners, I always had this entrepreneurial itch to see how far we could take our own ideas.

LRS: I remember the murals on the walls of your old bedroom! I loved them! Even then, I was in awe of your artistic talent.

LRS: Can you tell me about MUB’s parent company, Glow Creative Innovations? What makes Glow unique?

JB: Glow has a big idea at its core. We hope to grow in success and join up with other like-minded creative people to help nurture and grow their ideas, too.

Originally, we wanted to be a brick-and-mortar art studio and coffee shop with classes and events that would bridge communities, give back, and bring people together. That’s all still on our bucket list.

No matter what we do, we are much stronger when we’re working with others. We can do so much when we stand with a group, pooling our talents, experiences, and connections so that we can take our ideas and fly together. Wherever we end up, it’s all about the love of the adventure, right? Maybe MUB will get us there. We can only hope that others will see his value and love him as much as we do!

LRS: Lastly, where can we find MUB to get him in time for Christmas?

JB: The pre-sale is now and the first batch of MUBs ever will be ready to ship on or before December 10th. The first 100 plushes sold will each get a free sticker sheet. Also, there’s a children’s book in the making, so follow us on Facebook or go to our site and sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates and MUB Club news. A big thank you to everyone who supports us and we hope to bring you more fun and useful monsters in the future.

You can order MUB now at www.mubclub.com where imagination meets reality and children overcome their fears with a little help from a soft and cuddly monster.

Meet the Creator

More about Glow Creative Innovations and their other products can be found here

Lastly, meet Jess Bieber, creator of the silly and lovable monster with a purpose! She and I don’t get to see each other often, so we tend to text and FaceTime. Here she is with another plush toy that I can’t wait to see from Glow Creative in the future!

The Girl Who Fell

_MG_7483We just returned from our trip to Prince Edward Island and, friends, I have fallen. I have fallen deeply, madly in love.

All vacations are lovely, but none of them have ever left me with a desire to relocate my entire family as soon as humanly possible. I loved the Bahamas and Jamaica. England and Wales were beautiful. France was amazing. I’ve even been to Montreal, so it’s not like this was my first stop in Canada. And I’ve traveled eight-thousand miles across the U.S., stopping in 22 states along the way, so I’ve seen my fair share of our own beautiful country.

But the utterly breathtaking views of Prince Edward Island—the oceans, the dunes, the grasses, the fields—it was the first time in a very long time where I felt I could breathe, truly breathe.

I’ve never considered leaving the country before, not really. Yet I find myself perusing the real estate listings on PEI and researching jobs and weather. Who knows? If I’m lucky and I plan things just right, maybe PEI is in my future. I know it’s already in my heart.


(If I could just convince the world that I’m an author and that my books are worth buying…that would be something. When the day comes where I finally sell my books, the ‘PEI Relocation’ fund will officially be a thing in the Storms household. I vow it.)

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The Value of One Year

Can you measure the worth of a year? How do you set the price? In dollars? In euros? In pesos? Can you put a price on it at all?

When you get a cancer diagnosis, you find out just how much your time with loved ones is really worth, and just how much more of that time you want. One year ago, we found out.

One year ago, my husband was diagnosed with a rare type of pancreatic cancer. One year ago, the doctors saved his life.

And mine.

If you want to know the value of a year, ask anyone who has faced this kind of diagnosis or worse. We were lucky. His was only a stage 1B. Prognosis is good. Our future is optimistic.

But that doesn’t stop me from asking ‘What if?’ a hundred-thousand times a day. What if things had been different?

So if you want to know what a year is truly worth, spend an afternoon with a cancer survivor and ask them to share their experience. And never take for granted another year, another day, another minute, again.

June 5, 2017 changed our lives forever. I have felt a level of gratitude every day of this past year greater than I could ever have imagined. If you want to know the value of one year, simply ask yourself, “What if?”

Storms full page program ad for Dance Centers
The ad we placed in this year’s dance program.

Where Dreams and Reality Collide

There’s a job opening in a microbiology laboratory where I used to work. I’ve said often to friends and family how much I missed working in the micro lab, how much fun the testing could be, how interesting the job. And yet…

I have no less than four headhunters who have emailed me about this position in the past 48 hours. It’s a contract position with the potential for permanent work. But do I want permanent work? Do I want to commit my hours to working for dollars instead of writing for none? Am I ready to give up on a dream of writing novels full-time to have the security and extra money a job outside the home would bring?

Before you comment, let me stop you. 1. I’ve heard all these arguments before, and 2. I’ve been having the same conversation with myself for days now. It’s not giving up on a dream to accept the reality of supporting your family and easing the financial burden by helping to bear the load. But there’s a lot to consider because taking a full time job outside of the house is more than just 40 hours a week. It’s also 7-10 hours of commute time. 

Beyond that, it’s giving up all the luxuries I currently have. No, not the financial luxuries. I’m talking about the school field trips I chaperone, the classrooms I assist in for fun activities, the holiday parties I can help plan for my kids. These are the things I can never get back, the things time won’t wait on. By going back to work full time, I’d be putting my kids and family second again – at least as far as time constraints go. (Certainly not in regards to feelings!)

So, while there’s a part of me that longs for the financial freedom a second household income would bring, and the knowledge that I’m helping my husband to bear the financial load a bit more, I think I’ll pass on the microbiology lab for now. The lab will be there in five years and in ten. My 8 and 12-year-olds will not. Time has a habit of stealing our youth and I intend to build as many memories with my kids as I can while they’re still young.

And writing? I will always have writing. Being home just allows me to pursue it more passionately.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have some faces to paint at the 6th grade school carnival in a half hour and rocks to paint in a 2nd grade classroom later today. Pharmaceutical microbiology and financial freedom can wait.