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Steena Holmes' new novella 'Before the Storm' to benefit KidsPeace only on Oct. 8

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speak-out-circleKidsPeace is teaming up with BookSparks for their annual "BookSparks Speaks Out" campaign and this year, they're speaking out against school violence.


The campaign is in conjunction with the release of Steena Holmes' moving new novel, "Stillwater Rising" and poignant prequel novella, "Before the Storm." The novel depicts a tight-knit community shattered by an elementary school shooting and their tragic yet empowering healing process, while the prequel novella details the events and day of the school shooting.


Tomorrow, Oct. 8, is SAVE Day (Stop America's Violence Everywhere), so to help end school violence and bolster the communities who have suffered at the hands of such tragedies, ALL proceeds from "Before the Storm" purchases made on Oct. 8 will go directly to KidsPeace. 


Here are five ways you help us SPEAK OUT:

  • Buy it: All proceeds from "Before the Storm" purchases made on Oct. 8 will go directly to KidsPeace. Buy the novella and support KidsPeace. 
  • Blog it: If you're a blogger, create a dedicated blog post to spread the word about the campaign. Use the Speak Out badge in your blog post and include it in your sidebar. 
  • Facebook it: Share the badge, this campaign, #SpeakOut, #SAVEDay, and your words against school violence via Facebook and tag us and BookSparks so we can share too! 
  •  Tweet it: Speak out with @BookSparks and @SteenaHolmes about ending school violence, benefiting @KidsPeace! #SpeakOut #SAVEDay
  • Rate it: Head over to Goodreads and rate Steena Holmes' "Stillwater Rising" and "Before the Storm." The moving novella and empowering novel is a story of loss, community and healing that is unlike any other. 

Life’s Journey series: Is worrying stealing your joy?

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smiley faceBy Denise Morganthall 


“Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Remember Bobby McFerrin’s catchy song?


Worrying is a practice that many of us perfect over our lifetimes. We worry about getting sick, losing a job, keeping the house clean and what people think of us. The list goes on and on, with a lot of energy channeled into worrying about things that never happen. It is natural to worry, and worrying can actually prevent us from making some bad decisions. But there is a line, and when worrying interferes with daily life, it’s time to say enough is enough.


When we worry, we are robbing ourselves of present time and actually making ourselves sick. Worrying can cause high blood pressure, headaches and loss of sleep, and can lead to bad habits such as smoking and alcohol and drug abuse. Worrying can also impact our emotional health, leading to depression, anxiety attacks and other stress-related disorders.


Why do we spend so much time worrying about what others think of us? Did you ever hear of the 18/40/60 rule? When you are 18, you worry about what everybody is thinking about you. At 40, you don’t care what other people think of you (that one I like) and at 60 you realize nobody’s been thinking about you at all. Most people aren’t thinking about you because they are worrying about their own lives. If they are thinking about you, they are worrying what you are thinking about them.


We need to take the time to determine what we worry about and how often. There are two types of worries; productive and non-productive. A productive worry is one that you can do something about, like adhering to the April 15 deadline to file your income taxes. An unproductive worry would be dwelling on something out of your control, such as a prediction that the world is going to end. Even if this prediction were finally true, there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to prevent it.


In the most basic sense, if worrying is becoming a daily occurrence, it is time to find a way to overcome this habit.

The Power of Words

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you-are-beautiful-campaignBy Caren Chaffee 


Very recently, a surprising and, for some, confusing billboard was erected in various locations in Erie County, N.Y. The billboards, placed along major routes in the Buffalo region, simply stated “you are beautiful” – in plain font, all lowercase letters, without graphics or decoration.


This uncomplicated message incited a great deal of discussion throughout print, radio, television and social media. Many wondered: (1) where it came from; (2) who had placed the billboards in such strategic locations throughout the area and (3) above all, what it meant.


The answers were easily identified: (1) The message was first created by artist Matthew Hoffman in 2002, when he printed 100 stickers and left them in various locations in Chicago. Since then, more than 1.5 million stickers have been shared on every continent in the world. He went on to collaborate with thousands of other artists to re-create the message in cities across the globe through every possible art medium. (2) The billboards placed in Erie County are a part of a public art project organized by a Buffalo-based art gallery. (3) According to the website, “It’s our mission to leave the world a little better than when we found it.”


Words are powerful in many ways. They can be used to encourage and support, to comfort and soothe, to provide explanation, to ask questions, to apologize, to teach… and to hurt.


When we share a message with others, we can actually see its impact. A positive message can brighten someone’s day and often gives implicit permission to “pay it forward.” The result is more cheer, more happiness and a greater sense of community. A negative message can be insidious, breeding cynicism and distrust.


The power of words is immeasurable, and the example we set for youth is critical. Mr. Hoffman shared a story of an eighth-grade student who received permission from her principal to place a note stating “you are beautiful” on every locker in her school. The impact this likely had on impressionable middle school-aged youth who often grapple with feelings of self-worth was, in all probability, beyond estimation.


Mr. Hoffman launched his campaign anonymously for a long time. When finally began to talk about his project publicly, he was quoted as saying, “Can you feel the landscape changing?


Public reaction to the “you are beautiful” campaign made the answer to his question clear. Social media posts included statements such as, “Whoever put this sign next to the freeway exit is my hero,” “Morning commute pick-me-up,” “Makes me smile every day driving home from work,” “Thank you for reminding us,” “Greatness this morning” and simply, “Yes!”


We all have a choice to spread cheer or breed unhappiness. Our words have power, and with power comes great responsibility. We must be responsible to ourselves and to our communities with the words that we choose.

Life's Journey Series: The art of self-care

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By Denise Morganthall


With today’s hectic lifestyle and abundant responsibilities, it can be difficult to make time for health and self-care needs. But what better time to explore some self-care strategies than at the start of what for most people is a long weekend?


The idea of self care has been around for centuries, but it really gained a popular following in the 1980s, when it was employed in households, businesses and health care facilities. It has been proven that taking care of ourselves makes us better caretakers for others, whether children, parents or patients.


Self care is about choosing behaviors that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors in our lives. This can involve exercising, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep or practicing relaxation techniques, anything that cultivates a healthy mind and body. Here are some ways to make time for your own well-being:

  • Listen to music
  • Read a book or magazine
  • Get a massage
  • Take a power nap
  • Go to lunch with a friend
  • Go for a walk or ride your bike
  • Plant a garden
  • Draw or paint
  • Go fishing

This list of self-care strategies could go on and on. The most important thing is that we take care of ourselves, do what we enjoy the most and make the best use of our time. You must make yourself a priority to attain a better state of mental and physical well-being, and self-care gives you the knowledge and tools to improve the quality of your life.

Life's Journey Series: You are responsible for your life

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positive outlookBy Denise Morganthall 


Many of us go through life hearing these words over and over again … “You need to be more responsible.” Sound familiar? When you were a teenager I am sure you heard, “If you were more responsible, that would not have happened.” You may even hear your boss tell you that you need to be more responsible. Unfortunately we are very good at playing what we call the “blame game.” We are constantly blaming others when we should be blaming ourselves.


It is easy to blame others for our irresponsible behaviors and our quality of life. We blame our parents for how we were raised, our boss for our low salary, our spouse for having no time to ourselves. Why do we do this? The answer is fear. Taking responsibility for our lives can be a scary thing. When you accept full responsibility for your life, you then need to accept not just the successes but failures as well. Maybe you had a troubled childhood, and you obviously aren’t responsible for what happened at that time, however from this point on you are responsible for what you make of your life. There is no reason to take revenge out on your parents for what happened years ago. There is nothing they can do now to make the past disappear, however, you can talk about it and work on the present and the future. Don’t ever let a negative past define you; let it be a lesson that strengthens you and leads you on a path to a positive, brighter future.


If we are to be 100 percent responsible for our lives then we need to look at life through a different lens. A positive outlook produces a positive outcome. If you are driving and someone cuts you off, your first response may be to get angry and start yelling and throwing your fists around. Before you do this, let’s think this through. Maybe this person just found out he has cancer and may not live. Or maybe she has 1,000 things on her mind and just wasn’t thinking. Or maybe there was a blind spot in the road and your car wasn’t visible. Of course, maybe the other driver is just disrespectful. But whatever the case, you need to move on.


Changing our thoughts and behavior is certainly not an easy task, but if we want to see change in our lives we need to change our reactions to situations that are presented to us. Everything you experience today is the result of choices you have made in the past. If you are an alcoholic and you keep drinking, your life is not going to get any better. You have the choice to change who you are and what you want out of life. Yes, that may mean changing your friends, changing your outlook or your habits. But if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve always gotten. If you need more help around the house, your house will remain a mess until you ask for help. By taking no action and complaining, we are allowing things to happen to us rather than accepting responsibility for our lives. No one else can help you get what you want. When we complain, we are wasting time, and often voicing our displeasure to the wrong people. Rather than telling your boss that you’re upset with your new work schedule, you complain to your spouse. You whine to your friends that your spouse is always on the road and your relationship is on the rocks. Complaining will get us nowhere if we don’t go to the right person. We all have the responsibility to take action to make our lives better.


Life’s Journey series: Secrets to a positive attitude

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positive thinkingBy Denise Morganthall 


Our attitudes, or how we react to people or situations, determine the type of day we will have. If we wake up to a rainy day, it is easy to feel moody and tired unless we shift our attitude and look on the bright side. It could be as simple as saying, “I’d like to see some sun, but I know we need the rain” or “It doesn’t matter what the weather is. I am going to have a great day.” In the words of Art Linkletter, “Things turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”


Our attitudes are shaped by our intelligence, self-esteem and mood, but the remarkable thing is that we have a choice every day regarding what we will embrace. We cannot change the past or how other people behave. Some things are inevitable, no matter how much we desire otherwise, but we can change our reactions to other people and situations to produce a positive result. Years ago I attended a seminar emphasizing how our attitude affects our life. The leader shared a story about a man who was driving his SUV on the interstate when he saw an 18-wheeler coming toward him. He was hoping the 18-wheeler would get back on the other side of the road, but unfortunately it clipped his vehicle, sending it spinning in circles before landing on its side in a ditch. When passersby stopped to help him, he looked up, smiled and waved and said, "I’m alive!" Now that’s a positive attitude.


Sometimes life can seem unfair, but some of our unhappy times may be a blessing in disguise. If you lose your job, it could be the opportunity to find one you truly love. If your boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up with you, it might be the chance you needed to meet someone new. Remember that whatever you are working through now is helping you have a brighter future. Don’t forget the Law of Attraction, and if it helps, think about the fact that there is always someone having a harder time. There is an old saying, "I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street I met a man who had no feet."


While we are all ultimately in control of our own attitudes, which means it is important to surround ourselves with positivity. If your friends don’t improve your mood, it’s time to find a new circle. Make time to do things that make you feel good about yourself. Avoid comparing yourself to others. And remember that life is not just about the journey, but the quality of the journey. Make every day the best it can be.


Photo credit: iStock/Eskemar 

Summer break should not include a break from reading

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open bookBy Caren Chaffee 


Summer signals warmer temperatures, more sunshine and time spent at the beach or pool. For many children, it also means summer vacation and a welcome break from school. However, a break from school should not signify a subsequent break from reading. Reading is a crucial skill that can be further honed during the summer months, when children may have some extra “free” time.


Studies repeatedly demonstrate that poor reading skills lead to poor outcomes:

  • Students who are not proficient readers by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma (The Annie E. Casey Foundation).
  • Students reading below their grade level are twice as likely to drop out of school as those who can read at or above grade level (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis).
  • Among adults at the lowest level of literacy proficiency, 43 percent live in poverty. Among adults with strong literacy skills, only 4 percent live in poverty (First Book).
  • More than one third of all juvenile offenders read below a fourth-grade reading level (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis).
  • 82 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts (The Coalition for Juvenile Justice), and a very high proportion of them cannot read (Adolescent Literacy: A National Reading Crisis).

There are several populations who are at greater risk to struggle with literacy skills. Specifically, studies indicate that economic circumstances play a role in reading proficiency. In fact, only 16 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch programs (based on household income) are proficient in reading. In comparison, 42 percent of students who are not eligible for a free or reduced lunch read at proficient levels (NAEP Reading 2009).  In addition, reports from all 50 states indicate that boys are less proficient readers than girls. In some states, the gap is as large as 10 percentage points (Center for Education Policy).


There are many ways to help youth become more skilled readers.  The key is increasing their exposure to reading materials and opportunities to read:

  • Libraries are a primary source of reading materials, which can be borrowed free of charge.
  • It is important for youth to witness adults reading. High-frequency reading parents are six times more likely to have high- frequency reading children (2008 Kids & Family Reading Report). 
  • Bookstores often hold age-appropriate reading programs or book club meetings.
  • Many restaurants and bookstores offer summertime incentive programs for youth and reward their reading activities with free books or meals.
  • A weekly “theme” can act as a springboard for new reading materials and topics. Not only can meals and activities be based on the selected theme, but youth can be encouraged to read books related to the theme.
  • Fun everyday activities can quickly and easily be turned into opportunities to read:
    • Museums, zoos and local parks often have signage that youth can read aloud.
    • News stories on the internet provide daily opportunities for youth to learn about current events that are of interest to them.
    • Shopping with children gives them the opportunity to read a shopping list and find the corresponding items on the shelves.
    • Cooking or baking is not only a good chance for children and caregivers to spend time together, but it provides the added benefit of reading a recipe.
    • Road trips give youth exposure to different billboards, which they can read aloud.

By making reading more accessible and more fun for youth, caregivers and other adults can play an important role in improving children’s level of reading proficiency. These acts, while seemingly small and simple, have the power to offer life-changing and life-long benefits.


Image credit: iStock photo/colematt 

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