Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankfulness is a Choice

Curled up on my personal side of our leather sectional with my laptop perched upon my lap, my iPhone 4 at my hip, I glanced over to my husband, on his side of the sectional, his laptop perched on the back of the couch.  He started complaining about his job which somehow led to both of us whining about all the leaves in our yard and the excessive amount we pay each month for the rental of a storage unit.  All while our children laughed as they ran through the house as we yelled for them to keep it down.  Standard stuff.  A normal day.  Until we got the call…
My good friend’s toddler had just been hit by a car and killed.  He was only nineteen months old.   And everything seemed to freeze as the air was sucked out of the room.
Medical staff told my friend when she was pregnant that her baby boy might not survive. This was a baby who was born with a congenital heart defect, requiring two open heart surgeries. Then they said he may never walk.  But walk he did.  From there he ran, and not silently either.  Oh no.  He laughed and squealed while he ran, as if to say to the doctors and experts, “I’ll show you.”
And so the little boy who was not supposed to make it, not only survived but happily thrived in the care and love of his mother, family, friends, and dedicated medical professionals, charming all he met with his exuberant smile.  A precious, tiny life who touched all who knew him.  Gone much too soon. 
Here we are at Thanksgiving and I find myself humbled.  I have a home and a job that if I quit tomorrow, no one would go hungry.  My husband at least has a job to complain about when so many have lost theirs.  We have a bothersome amount of leaves in our yard but we are both healthy enough to go out and rake them up.  And we have so much “stuff” that we have to rent out a storage space to contain it.  My children are healthy and happy.  And I still have a God who is good, even when I don’t understand all that happens in the world, even when I rarely have the answer to the question “Why?”
So this Thanksgiving I’m going to quit my whining about all the things I wish had, the things my heart longs for, the things that I most likely will never have.  I chose to be thankful.  And yeah, it’s a choice.  Being thankful doesn’t come naturally to humans.  It’s a learned trait.  Anyone who’s brought up kids under the age of five knows exactly what I’m saying.  We teach our children to say “thank you.”
I’m thankful for so many things but I am especially thankful for the little boy who touched so many lives in his brief life.  No matter what complications he faced, no matter how many surgeries, doctor appointments, physical therapy treatments, he always faced it with a smile.  There’s a lesson in there for me.  In my faith, I believe I will see baby Riley again.  And I have complete confidence that when I do…he’ll be smiling. 
We miss you, Smiley Riley.  You will always be in our hearts. 
Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate.
            -Suzi Ryan

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hitting the Target

A few days ago I entered my local Target store with literally one item on my shopping list.  Within two minutes of entering the money pit, I was completely distracted and had a shopping-cart full of items that I really had no good use for.  Trailing behind me, my three kids were up to their usual “ooohhhing” and “aaahhing” about the mercantile wonders of the superstore.  Suddenly, my six year-old dropped the red-tagged, toothbrush-shaped back scratcher that he’d been arduously trying to convince me to purchase and stopped me in my tracks.  There, in the middle of Aisle 16, between men’s shoes and kids’ underwear, my son gave me a wake-up call. 
“Mom… you have to FOCUS!  Remember the important things!”  There I was; comparing a clearance priced generic bath bubbles’ set with the full priced name-brand one, when I realized that we barely even use bubbles in the bath!  My son’s comment snapped me out of my crazed consumerism moment, catching me off-guard with its simple truth.
A mental epiphany followed the amazing revelation that just as my Target trips usually lack focus and often deviate from their initial purpose, so does much of my own scatter-brained race through the aisles of life.  Suddenly, it dawned on me that when a spill happens in Aisle 33, it’s a lot harder to get there in good time when you’re still stuck in Aisle 4.
In that moment, I found myself wondering whether or not having a life that compared to Target in its messiness and hodge-podge aisles was really a good thing.  Wouldn’t it be better to focus on just one specialty, like a handbag boutique that only sells really pricey, high quality bags instead of cramming all sorts of knick-knacks under one roof?
Within seconds, the answer to my mental question was abruptly delivered by my nine-year old.  “Mom, look!  Here’s the poster-paper I need for my science project.”  The comment was quickly followed by my two year old jumping up and down with a bag of crackers shouting “Goal-fish! Goal-fish!  I love Goal-fish!”
I glanced at my over-flowing cart, threw in the poster paper and the Goldfish crackers and whispered a fervent “Thank you” to God and to Target for saving me from having to make another stop. 
So, even if you lose your focus or change your purpose while meandering through the aisles of life, I’ve come to conclude that it’s better to be gifted with the fullness of choices than to be limited by only one specific product.  As nice as that Prada bag might be, I’d much rather pick up some crackers, some poster paper, and a useless back scratcher all in one shot. 
We left Target that pivotal day without the bubble bath but with a shared feeling of contentment… even though we forgot to pick up the item we’d initially gone in for.  I guess tomorrow could always be another Target day. J
                -Suzy Ismail


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Angels Among Us

Headlines read: 
  • Red haired mermaid falls in love with the handsome prince she rescues from drowning. 
  • Bibliophilic beauty falls in love with a grouchy, unrefined beast. 
Like it or not, Disney has us adults and the next generation of girls all set to repeatedly swoon for stories of forbidden love.  I just had the pleasure of spending an evening with a literary agent and editor where the question was raised—when will the paranormal bubble burst?  For the record, I predict no time soon. 
Because the last two books I reviewed were both on fallen angels, my good friend/co-blogger Suzy asked me what my thoughts were as a Christian about humans getting physical with fallen angels.  The question made me crack open my Bible.
Upon examination of the Old Testament, in the very first book of the Bible, I found an account of angels, who came to earth and took human wives and impregnated them.  Now obviously these were not the cute, chubby cherub angels you see in the form of resin knick knacks in the Hallmark store. These were clearly man-like beings, equipped with all the parts necessary for getting intimate, if you know what I mean (wink wink).    
Lauren Kate and Becca Fitzpatrick did not need look far for their inspiration for angels who fell for/lusted after human girls.  I’m sure there are many Christians who would be offended by such use of fiction.  I am not among them for I (drumroll please) am a lover of make-believe. 
Disney princesses aside, my journey began when I was four years old, perched upon the armrest of a movie theater seat, my neck craned and my mouth agape in bedazzlement at the wonders of X-wing fighters and light sabers.  Next came my mother’s reading to me about the shire and a race of little people with big hairy feet and a dragon who could talk.  I knew fantasy would be my genre of choice for the rest of my life.  Ah, and then came the human Aragorn who loved an elf named Arwen.  I suppose from that moment on I was destined to be weak in the knees over the love between a human and a non-human. 
And whether it be the attraction between a clumsy human girl and a hundred year old vampire, a longing between a human/fairy hybrid of the Summer Court with one of the Winter Court fey, a werewolf boy, watching a girl from the woods longing to turn human again, or an angel who left the wonders of Heaven to be together with his earth-bound desire, I guess I’m just a sucker for forbidden love. Impossible love.  A love many would disapprove of.  A love that never should have been in the first place…but was nonetheless (sigh). 
And so the trend in paranormal fiction trudges on.  Move over, you books on vampires—you’ve been bled dry.  And all the glamour in the world can’t stop the fall of the books on fey.  Leash up your werewolves and put them out with some puppy chow.  And so I say enthusiastically: Open up the floodgates of Heaven and let the angels descend! (Fictionally speaking, of course).  You just never know—one might choose you over glory.    J

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Holidays All Around—

I always find it amazing to look around my neighborhood every year and find the multitude of overlapping holidays that tend to fall around the Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa time.  It’s also pleasantly amazing to see that almost every year another holiday from across the globe seems to be added to the growing list of holidays celebrated around this time.
 A few days ago the five-day Hindu festival of Diwali, a celebration of lights and the Indian New Year, just wrapped up.  Following closely after this festival comes the Muslim holiday of Eid Ul-Adha— not as well known as Ramadan, but still quite a big deal in my faith.  Since Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the date of our holidays change each year, which was always difficult to explain to teachers back in middle-school and high-school when we were pleading for a day off to celebrate.
While Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, celebrates a month of fasting, patience, and prayer, Eid ul-Adha marks the end of Hajj (the ritual pilgrimage to Makah in Saudi Arabia that Muslims must undertake once in their lifetime if they are able to).  Pictures of the Hajj often flash on the news channels around the time of this holiday where throngs of people dressed in white appear to nearly mesh into one another as they circumvent the Kabah (a black square structure at the heart of Makah believed to be built by Prophet Abraham and his son way back when).  The purpose of the pilgrimage is essentially to reenact what the Prophet is believed to have done years ago and to stand shoulder to shoulder with other Muslims from around the world with no dividers of age, race, wealth, or status.  Whether or not you complete the Hajj, every year Eid ul-Adha marks a great celebration to the end of the 8-day pilgrimage and is viewed as the Feast of Sacrifice, where everyone who is financially able to should provide meat and food to those who are in need. 
Eid Ul-Adha falls on November 16th this year and we’ve already planned the family festivities.  In order to give our children a sense of the holiday, we usually make projects related to the Hajj, do our own little reenactment play with family and friends, teach our kids about giving charity and food to those who are less fortunate and really just appreciate the quality time we can spend with those we love.  Substitute lamb for the turkey, a mini-Kabah for the decorations, and detract Santa, Black Friday madness, and the Christmas tree and you’ve essentially got the formula for a very similar holiday. 
Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Eid ul-Adha or any other holiday this season, the main ingredients are still the same.  It’s all about the family, the friends, and the remembrance that whichever faith you choose to follow—it is always worth being celebrated. 
Happy Holidays to All-- wherever your holiday may fall!  J
          -Suzy Ismail

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Ultimate Test

For all you writers out there, closet and otherwise, one of the hardest transitions to make in writing is taking that scary first step towards going public.  I’m not talking about ‘publication public,’ but the steps that precede – letting someone other than yourself peek at what you’ve poured onto paper.  Putting your writing out there for someone else to read and judge is the first step in admitting and accepting the inevitable… you are a writer.  Maybe your first readers consist of the small group of people in your critique group, or your sister, your friend, your pen pal, your mother, your spouse, your dog (assuming the family pet will stick around and listen to you read) or anyone else you trust enough to allow a glimpse of the part of you that you are broadcasting to the world.
As often as published authors run anxiously to check the Amazon reviews and to grab the first issues of relevant magazines and newspapers to read those reviews, the apprehension towards reading these often anonymous or professional reviews is nothing compared to that initial anxiety when you are asking readers you actually know to pass judgment on your writing.
Assume now that you’ve made it through round one of the process and Mom’s given you the thumbs up and swears left and right to Aunt Betty, Uncle Joe and anyone else who will listen that you’re a prodigy and a true writing genius.  The next step to test Mom’s theory that you’re the next Tolstoy might be to workshop a page or two with a formal critique group or even at a first page session.
Interestingly enough, I recently attended one of these first page sessions where an agent and publisher pass judgment on the first page of your writing.  Talk about anxiety!  Possibly the most interesting thing to gain from this session is the benefit you receive from hearing someone else read your writing out loud.  It’s amazing how different your words sound when someone else reads them to a room full of listeners.  It’s a little like hearing your voice on an answering machine or watching yourself on TV (trust me, that’s weird).  All the things you thought you didn’t do come to the surface and you find yourself nodding with the critique and thinking “Wow, how did I miss that?”
So, if you’ve put some words on paper and are ready to share with the world, you might want to take a second look before you leap.  It’s definitely a hard market out there, and finding your niche is sometimes harder than the writing itself.  Sure, let Mom and company read what you’ve written, but also take it to the experts and realize that any constructive criticism can only make your writing that much better.  After all, it took Tolstoy over six years and several revisions to complete and publish “War and Peace.” If you’re still on year one or two with your first draft, then you’ve got plenty of time to spare. J  
          -Suzy Ismail

Saturday, November 6, 2010

CRESCENDO, by Becca Fitzpatrick, a book review

Patch and Nora are back for round two in Becca Fitzpatrick’s second installment of Hush, Hush.  Patch is a fallen angel who wants to be human.  In order to fulfill that desire, he must kill Nora.  But he doesn’t.  He falls in love with her instead.  So now Nora has herself a sexy guardian angel…who kisses really well. 
The good:  Quickly paced and easy to read.  Mysterious and suspenseful.  Who really killed Nora’s father?  The question is answered in this book.  Becca’s writing style is a nice balance of dialogue versus description.  And my most favorite thing about Becca?  She has a degree in Health and she writes.  Super cool.  Perhaps there’s hope for me yet.
The bad:  Where’s the love, man?  In the field of paranormal YA, Becca pulls off sexual tension like few else.  I bought it in Hush, Hush—in the beginning.  Well, technically I salivated through the first half of the book, if you must know.  But somewhere along the way, their relationship turned into true love and I confess, I missed it…especially for him. 
Now we’re into Crescendo and I still don’t see it, or more importantly feel it.  Scenes of sexual tension laced with Patch’s innuendos quickly turn into a big fight due to Patch’s inability to effectively communicate with Nora.  Plus Nora is crazy jealous (not sure as I blame her…she has a super hot boyfriend who probably can’t count the number of women or angels he’s been with over the years and he does nothing but keep secrets from her).   They don’t seem to have anything in common and cannot even have one mature, semi-adult conversation.  Becca, if your goal was to bring together two people who have absolutely nothing in common other than physical attraction, ya nailed it, sister.   But if this is supposed to be a love story, we need more in the next book.  A lot more…though there’s a nice bit at the end of this book I could count as a starter.
The Bottom line:  This book kept me going.  Tons of action and suspense and when there wasn’t? Well there was plenty of sexy.  I was not bored. I did not skip ahead. I was thoroughly engrossed.  A quick, enjoyable read.  And my hat’s off to you Becca, I didn’t see the ending coming.  I find there aren’t many surprises in YA and I confess, I was happily thrown off.  Definitely worth the read, though I suggest getting your hands on Hush, Hush to start with.
Suzi’s rating:  4 out of 5
     -Suzi Ryan

Monday, November 1, 2010

To ghoul or not to ghoul…

We had been living in our new house for one month, childless at the time.  As we stepped out of our doorway, dressed to go to a good friend’s wedding, costumed children descended upon us seeking treats.  Not even aware we had stumbled into trick or treating territory, we apologized to the little darlings and proceeded to our car.  “That’s not the way to start out in this neighborhood,” our new neighbor greeted icily from the street.  Mind you, my husband was in a suit and I was donned in an ankle length velvet gown, clearly overdressed for Halloween.  Needless to say, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth that no amount of York peppermint patties could erase.
Growing up, I happily trick or treated.  Back when we all us kiddies had to do was set out at night by ourselves and the scariest thing we had to worry about was whether a razor blade had been inserted into our apples by some sick freak.  It was good, clean fun and the neighbors were excited to see us.  I don’t regret my days of Halloweening.
My husband is an ex-Jehovah’s Witness who grew up studying the less than Godly history of Halloween.  He knew things I had certainly never known.  Things I never would have thought to look up.  As our kids came along, we had to make a decision.  We chose not to celebrate.  A decision made between us and God.  A decision that is different for each Christian.  We certainly have a number of Christian friends who partake in the sugar laden festivities.  One is an ordained minister who actually used to stage a haunted house in his own home each year as an outreach to the community.    
But I certainly don’t want my kids to sit home and listen to laughing children run past our house, their bags stuffed gleefully with sugar, corn syrup, and artificial colors.  So, we leave long before our nosy neighbor is out and about and have family fun time with the kids.  This year we hit the local farm market for a hay ride and pumpkin picking.  And instead of making jack-o-lanterns, we’re going to roast up and puree those pumpkins to make pumpkin muffins.  Then we’ll toast up the seeds for a healthy snack.  And yeah, we even picked up some candy, just nothing me or my husband liked (smart thinking from the fat chick). 
So to those of you who celebrated, I hope you all had a blast.  To those of you who didn’t, have no fear.  You are not alone. 
     -Suzi Ryan