When I Grow Up

Some Birthdays Are Meant to Be Celebrated Forever

I got an email reminder yesterday from an e-card company wanting me to send birthday wishes. This reminder was completely unnecessary; the birthday in question is one that I know as well as my own. Unfortunately, sending electronic birthday wishes is now impossible, as this person is no longer with us.

As far back as I can remember, one constant Christmas gift from my uncle was a calendar. Upon my opening said gift, he would always prompt me to flip to April where on the13th, often in red felt-tipped marker, he had prominently written, “Uncle Lee’s birthday.”

Though he left us last August, Uncle Lee is on my mind often. While growing up, I had a stronger relationship with my parents’ siblings than most of my friends, but I was especially close to Uncle Lee. Though we lived at a distance from the time I was about 3, it never felt that far; we were always closely connected.

He had an enormous influence on my life. From the day I was born, he was looking out for me. He provided resources to feed my curiosity. He made sure I was never without quality books to read and encouraged me to read and write – often. He introduced me to some of the cultural advantages that only a major city can afford and welcomed me into the world of my childhood heroes – children’s book authors.  It’s just over the past year that I have realized the extent of his involvement in my early life. Reading letters he wrote to my mom when I was very young and living halfway across the country, I was surprised to note that I was mentioned in every one and that he was thinking of me in many of his world travels.

I miss his SMILE

When my family moved back into the same time zone, we spent considerable time together. A couple-hour drive was an obstacle, but easy to overcome a few times a year. I spent a week each summer at his condo, the highlight of which was a night on the town and a show, with much of the balance of the week spent relaxing, reading books and chatting about whatever my interests were at the time. He genuinely cared about what I was interested in and tried to find ways to bring those things into closer focus for me. He spoke to me like an adult, asking my opinions and more importantly, listening to the answers. He introduced me to new things and watched closely for my reaction; he took joy in my joy.

I miss his LAUGHTER

Anyone who heard him laugh knows what I mean. His was an infectious laugh, one that took over his whole body. And he laughed often. He saw the absurdity in much of life and liked to point it out. He was quick to poke fun at himself and would often laugh when talking about his accolades, which he seemed to find overwhelming.

I miss his PRESENCE

I always knew what he did for a living. We would joke that he was “my famous uncle,” but it wasn’t until I first heard him speak when I was in high school that I saw that this was true. On this occasion, he was speaking to a small group of librarians at a restaurant a short distance from our home. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember him commanding the room and the reverential attitude among the attendees. I was stunned to learn that my uncle had “groupies.”

The next time I heard him speak was at the inaugural Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award celebration. The whole family was there, dressed to the nines, in the palatial governor’s mansion in Harrisburg, PA. It was a magical night, and as his guests, we got personal introductions to the guest of honor, Ashley Bryan. The following years, I was excited to be invited again. The awards ceremonies, moved to Hershey, were wonderful, the post-parties where I got to meet and chat with so many interesting people were exhilarating, but most special was the time spent after, debriefing in his suite for hours, before finally retiring to our rooms to sleep, then breakfasting together before heading our separate ways.

When my kids were young, I talked him into making the trip to be a featured speaker at their elementary school. Again, I got to see him “in action,” this time addressing children and encouraging them to continue to read and write.

When he moved to Florida, our visits became less frequent, but we stayed in touch via email and phone conversations. When he told me he was to receive an award in Philly, I told him I’d book a train ticket. I’m thrilled that I didn’t pass up that opportunity. While I saw it as a way to spend some time with him (though I knew I would have to share him), there was a surprise in store for him that I feel honored to have witnessed. He not only received the 2009 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, but also was feted, with countless poets speaking about his generosity and reading poems they contributed to a volume of poetry dedicated to him, Dear One. (I was a bit miffed, however, since I had mistakenly thought that I was the Dear One.) That day I learned that he had made a much greater contribution to the world of children’s literature than I had previously realized. He was much more than a poetry anthologist and a poet, but also a driving force behind so many others’ published poetry.

I miss his DRAMA

Ever the drama geek, simple things were always a production. He didn’t just give gifts; there was always a “Presentation of the Gifts.” Even appetizers at family gatherings were delivered with a flourish. At times he seemed full of himself, but it often was a reflection of his incredulity that he was held in such esteem by so many. Though some saw him as pompous at times, I believe it was all an act.

In his later years, his health didn’t allow him to travel much, so in 2014 when he heard he was to receive the PSLA’s Outstanding PA Author Award, he called to ask me to accept it for him. When he learned of past recipients, he was shocked and humbled. It was clear he could not have put himself in such company. I was happy to oblige and, after many drafts, shared my view of the man behind the legend with several hundred people in Hershey, PA. While this trip did not include some of the superstar perks of my previous Hershey trips as I received as his guest at the Poetry Award ceremonies, it was still special; I was proud to speak in his stead.

I miss his SUPPORT

On one of our Florida visits, he asked me why he and I had not done a book together. My reply was simple, he hadn’t asked me. He said he had wanted to do a collection of “found poems” and asked me to complete it with him. I am not a poet. Of course I have written a few poems, but nothing worth publishing. Thinking this might be something I could possibly do, I agreed. He asked me to go through some classics (public domain) and put some together. I sent him a few and he said he’d get back to me later. I wonder now why we never circled back to that. I suspect I missed the mark altogether, but wonder, was he afraid I wouldn’t take the criticism well? Or did I lack the passion in the project and he knew it? Or was it related to our one disagreement – I wanted to include a piece from Doyle’s The Lost World and he was vehemently opposed to Sci-Fi. In truth, I am not upset that this was dropped (I did lack the passion) but today I wish I had followed up again, not to have my name on a book, but to explore a new path in our relationship. I think I missed an opportunity here to grow as a writer.

He was interested in my work. He read my blog and would ask about my novel in progress. While he said that historical fiction was not his area of expertise, he provided some guidance and plenty of encouragement (as well as LOTS of links to helpful information). He would ask about where I was and remind me to get my “butt in seat.” After my first rejection he reminded me that a piece in the mail is better than a piece in the desk, advice he would repeat any time I spoke of an article or essay I had written but was not yet accepted.

What I don’t miss is his LOVE.

His love is still with me. That’s the one thing I’ve been left with. It’s something I have known with certainty all my life (even when we were at odds) and am reminded of in my memories and through his written words. One benefit of loving a writer is the assurance of having their thoughts and emotions in print. Lucky for me, I have lots of those words, from letters to my mom before I was able to read, to letters to me when I could read and write, to decades of emails between us, covering things profound and mundane. I have photos (though not enough) and mementos from events and places he shared with me. I have a lifetime of memories, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing I had more.

For me, April 13 will always be a special day. I can’t help but think of him on this day. (Not that he would ever have let me forget it!) Though I haven’t made the connection before, I recently realized that April is National Poetry Month. I took a few minutes this morning to try to determine why April? I didn’t find an answer but want to think it has something to do with my Uncle Lee. They couldn’t have chosen a better month.

One of the Hardest Things About Parenting Is Letting Go

The closed door makes it easier to forget that there is one less person living under my roof.

I should be used to empty rooms by now. I made my first college drop off in 2006 and have had a revolving door of young adults coming and going ever since. Each semester I’ve had to adjust to an empty bedroom (or two) and less faces around the dinner table. But this time, there’s no homecoming date on the calendar. This time, the move is permanent.

I’ve been here before. My oldest moved out six years ago. But that move was only a couple towns away; this one is a couple states. Though if I’m honest, it really doesn’t matter; the absence is felt, no matter the distance.

I tell myself this is three hours closer than when she was at college. Getting there will be easier — a day trip is possible, so theoretically, visits should be more frequent. BUT. This move is not just a physical move, it’s a life change. She’s moving on to bigger things in her life – a new job, her own place and new opportunities. A full time job means that realistically, there will only time for visits on weekends. And though she’ll want to see us, there will be other demands on that free time.

Building up to moving day we talked about how she’ll be home again – for holidays and family events. This is not a goodbye, but a farewell. But I know better than to count on frequent visits. Life is going to take her places we have no way of predicting. There will be new friends, new activities and at some point, someone will capture her heart and most of her free time.

I know that I won’t be replaced and that I will still be her “go-to” person for many things. I know that I’ll get calls, asking for advice, wanting to vent, or simply to say I miss you and love you. I know there will be opportunities for me to visit and for her to show me around her new city or for us to explore new areas together. But things will be different. There will be less time between the hellos and goodbyes. There will be no summer vacation or winter break. There will be fewer opportunities for spontaneous outings.

On the other hand, this is an exciting time in her life. She has a new job, a new city to explore and is making new friends. This is the way things are supposed to be. My full-time mothering is done. I’ve worked myself out of my long-held day job. As I said to her as I got ready to head for home, this is a big step for us. We both have to figure out our new roles and work out our new normal.

Before leaving, I left a gift for her to find, a magnet for her fridge. (Though I quickly discovered her fridge is not magnetic on the front, so I had to squeeze it in the space on the side). It reads “No matter what age you are, you always need your mom.” I wanted to remind her that I’ll always be here for her. I thought it would make her smile. We both know she’s got this. No matter how difficult it may be at times, she comes from a long line of strong, determined women and that strength, as well as the love our family shares, will see her through.

This is a good thing. It’s what we have been working toward all these years. But this may be one of the hardest things about parenting big kids – knowing it’s time to let go.

A New Year, A New Phrase

When you're finished changing, you're finished. - Benjamin Franklin

Many people start the year off with a new word or catch phrase to represent their goals. The past few years, I have allowed this word or phrase to find me which has generally happened a few weeks or a month or so into the year. This year, it came to me early. It’s about change. Change is inevitable; we can’t stop it, we can only choose how to respond to it.

If parenting taught me anything, it is that mapping out the future is futile. No matter how carefully you plan, things sometimes change. (This is not to say planning is a bad idea, but I’ve learned to be flexible as things don’t always work out the way you expect.) I’ve decided that this year I will be Embracing Change.

I already know that this year will be one of great change for me, starting this month as one of my children is getting ready to leave home for a job out of state. (And I suspect there will be soon more than one empty bedroom in our home.) I am making plans to try new things and to travel more, both for work and to spend time with family. I have new and challenging prospects coming up that may create a new path in my career. Rather than fighting it all, I’ve decided to enjoy the ride or with the inevitable tough changes, make the best of things.

Last year held both good and bad changes. Though I had some disappointments, career-wise things were mostly good. On the personal side, we celebrated college graduations and I spent more time with my parents than I have in a long time. On the negative side, I lost someone I dearly loved. Though it seemed impossible before, fractured relationships became further strained. I’ve learned to accept that some things are outside my control; I can’t dictate the choices others make.

Moving forward, in this new year and decade, I’m choosing to note lessons learned and move forward rather than dwell on the past. I’m choosing to face change head on, making adjustments and pushing back when necessary to up the odds of achieving the best possible outcome. I’m choosing to learn and grow, to become a better person than I am today. Though change is inevitable, I don’t have to sit back and let it happen, I can be an active participant, moving forward, no matter what life brings.

This year, I’m embracing change. Anyone want to join me?

Remembering My First Encounter With a Science Writer

Though young me would have been very surprised at the fact, I recently became a member of the National Association of Science Writers. From the time I was a child, I wanted to write. My first books were 3×5 index cards (complete with illustrations) stapled together. From the start, I was a voracious reader, predominately of fiction. Thankfully my parents supported this habit and didn’t prevent me from staying up late in the night to finish the next chapter (and then the next, and so on). While I had a dream to write professionally, I never expected to refer to myself as a science writer. In fact, it was only recently that I realized that I somehow became one.

One of my annual summer weeks at Uncle Lee’s, we went to a luncheon hosted by his friend, the children’s book author Tillie Pine. I knew even then that I was a tagalong. I was almost 9 and I’m sure that Uncle Lee got the invite after our plans were already set. I couldn’t say which of them suggested I come along. He may have asked, or she may have insisted. Looking at it from an adult lens, since a number of other people were also at the luncheon, there may have been an occasion to celebrate. I believe there were other authors in attendance, though to be honest, none of the names of the people I met that day were familiar to me. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of the hostess, though she was well known as a prolific writer of science and history books.

Tillie was gracious. I don’t remember much of our conversations, but she was very kind anBook cover: MAGNETS and How To Use Them by Tillie S. PIne and Joseph Levine, illustrated by Anne Marie Jaussd patient. She spoke to me like an adult, which was fairly uncommon among adults at the time and she showed genuine interest in what I had to say, both asking questions and listening for the answers.

We may have been early, or it was simply a casual affair, as food preparations were still going on. It was the first time I saw string beans in their natural state. She was amused when I asked what they were and then asked if I would like to help prepare them. So I guess I can say that Tillie Pine taught me how to snap green beans.

My other first of the day was eating beef tongue. Uncle Lee seemed amused when I took a piece, telling me what it was after it was in my mouth. To my unrefined eye, it looked and tasted like ham. Though I’m sure he expected a reaction from me, he got only a raised eyebrow. (I was not a picky eater as a child. There was no “Ew!” factor. Ask my mom.)inscription inside front cover of book "For Kim - To whom books are a magnet! Love Tillie S Pine 1975"

I couldn’t tell you what the adults talked about for the afternoon. I sat in the sunshine streaming in the windows, engrossed in a book. I recently pulled my copy of Magnets And How To Use Them (which she wrote, with Joseph Levine) off its shelf. Tillie obviously took note of my book addiction, writing “For Kim, To whom books are a magnet!” (In true Uncle Lee fashion, he had ensured I had a book of hers to get autographed.) Taped to the back cover is a small magnet that can be used in the simple learning experiments detailed in the book.

Though I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to spend time with children’s book authors while I was growing up. These were people who wanted to share their knowledge and enrich the lives of the next generation. They were then, and still are, my heroes.

Love Is the Foundation for Special Sibling Bond

Donna, Donald and Lee celebrating Lee’s 76th birthday

Guest post by Donna Venturi

A week ago today I lost my brother, Lee Bennett Hopkins. Lee was my first male love. He was a big brother to Donald and I and a father image to me. His nickname was Mickey. On my 8th birthday he took me to my first Broadway show, “Fanny.” He started a drama club at my elementary school where he had 50 kids from the projects performing in plays that he wrote and produced. I am still in touch with some of them today and they brag about which role they had in his plays. Lee made everyone feel like a star.

When I married my husband Tony, he told me I got the best. On the day our first daughter, Kimberly, was born, he and his partner Misha came from New York to New Jersey and gave her an angel, the first of a collection that grew each year. We asked him to be her godfather and he didn’t hesitate. He was honored. Our brother Donald’s son was born a few years later and was named Donald Bennett. When we moved to the Midwest, Lee and I still spoke on the phone at least twice a week. When our second daughter was born, I called to tell him the news; he was so excited that we named her Jennifer Lee.

Years went by, but we always remained close. We traveled together to London and Mexico and got together whenever possible. We moved back east and our kids grew up. Kimberly married Stephen and they have four beautiful children, Danielle, ToniLynn, Joseph and Kayleigh. Our Jennifer married Brian and they have two beautiful children, Erin and Connor. Each of the six of them has a book dedicated to them from Uncle Lee, and they all have a love of books and the theatre. Lee taught them right. Lee’s partner Misha died in 2002. It was a loss for our family as we all loved him as a brother and an uncle. Years later, Lee and his new partner sold their homes in NY and moved to Florida. At last I was able to spend more time with him. For ten years we talked on the phone every day. We went on trips, had parties and every Sunday for ten years they came to my house for dinner and dominoes.

Although we lived minutes from one another, the last five years the phone calls stopped. Due to a misunderstanding, we didn’t speak, but I kept the emails he sent me, telling me he loved and missed me and I would always be his baby.

Last Wednesday as he lay in the hospital, he told a friend that was visiting that he wanted his sister. This woman, Sue, and another, Cathy, who I now call my angels, went to great lengths to get in touch with me. I got to the hospital and for hours we laughed and cried and told each other how much we loved one another. He held my hand and squeezed it as if not to let go. Anyone who was dear to Lee knew that hand. When I said goodbye that day, I kissed him, told him I loved him and that he will always be my Shining Star. I miss him, his humor, that crazy laugh, the twinkle in his eyes.

There will never be another Lee Bennett Hopkins. Besides leaving his books, he leaves a family who loves him. Each one of us carries his genes. I find it interesting that he has two nieces; one is a writer and the other a teacher. Now that says so much for LEE BENNETT HOPKINS. He will be missed by us all.

The World of Children’s Literature Lost a Legend, I Lost My Uncle

While most know Lee Bennett Hopkins as a legend in the world of children’s poetry, to me he was much more. He was my uncle, my godfather, a huge part of my life growing up. He was funny and playful, he was opinionated and blunt, he was generous and usually kind. We didn’t always agree, in fact we had “words” more than once, but I never doubted that he adored me (and the feeling was mutual). I know that those who knew him, as well as many in the world of children’s poetry share my sorrow at his death.

He celebrated the day I was born and for the first few years of my life, was a regular visitor in our home, stopping by after work to see what new thing I had learned. When my dad’s career took us several states away, he kept in touch via letters, many of which I am pleased to say recently came into my possession. He also visited as often as he could afford, bringing extra energy and laughter to our small household.


All dressed up for my first Broadway show


As years passed, I became the recipient of many books – I didn’t have to visit the public library, my personal one had enough quality children’s literature to keep me busy for hours. We moved back to the East Coast when I was seven, the perfect age to be introduced to new and exciting experiences. Uncle Lee took me to see my first Broadway show, “No No Nannette” and started an annual tradition. He took me to children’s book conferences where I met some of my heroes – the authors of those books I devoured deep into each night. Together we explored some of New York City’s treasures:  Central Park Zoo, the Cloisters, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine (where at age 8, I was fascinated yet intimidated at the thought a real woman was displayed in a glass box). Though he had seen all these before, he viewed them through my eyes and took delight in my excitement.

Each summer I spent a week at his condo overlooking the Hudson River. He spent part of these days working, while I spent time chatting with Uncle Misha, his partner of 40 plus years who passed away in 2002, hanging out with Matt (a neighbor around my age), or went through his library, selecting new-to-me books to read on the balcony or out by the pool. Each time I arrived, there was a stack of books specially chosen to match my interests, alongside another stack of books, all of which I was free to take home if I wished.

The week always included a trip into The City (New York will always be The City to me) to see a show and sometimes also a trip to Rye Playland. Though there were some rides he preferred to watch me experience, he was happy to join in the fun on others. The Ferris wheel was one of his favorites (though not mine and honestly I think that is his fault). I have always loved the carousel; so that was a “must ride” and he was more than willing to join me. As I write this, I can see his face, laughing as he rode a painted pony up and down alongside or behind me.

Perhaps my favorite amusement park memory was when my sister and I convinced him to go on the Rotor with us. For those not familiar, this ride is a circular room with carpeted sides. After the door closes, the room spins;  pushing riders against the walls. Then, the floor drops out while riders remain stuck to the walls. As the ride slows, everyone slowly drops to the floor. On this day, that’s exactly what happened, to everyone but Uncle Lee. He was wearing corduroy pants, and while we all slid down, he remained six feet above us. Of course, everyone laughed and pointed. Though the situation was funny, it was the look on his face that was priceless. Today, I recognize the look as the same one my grandmother (his mother) also had when surprised: eyes large, mouth a gaping oval. He did exclaim, repeatedly “Oh, my goodness” (As an adult, I’m certain my exclamations would be different.) He did eventually slide down the wall to join us and we had an adventure for the memory banks to talk and laugh about later.

We are fortunate to have captured many family moments


Of course as an adult, our relationship changed. I got married, had kids and our visits were less frequent. The distance made in-person time more difficult. Yet we managed. When he established the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Awards, the whole family was invited to accompany him to the ceremony. The first was held at the PA governor’s mansion and was an incredible thing to be a part of.  Subsequent years, I was his guest and though I enjoyed the time at the ceremonies, chatting with the award winners and making new friends at the after parties, even better was having that one-on-one time with him alone afterwards to rehash it all.

The first Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award went to Ashley Bryon for his book Sing to the Sun

In 2009, he was awarded the NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award. As luck would have it, the conference that year was a short train ride away from me. I jumped at the chance to spend even an afternoon with him, despite the fact that some of that time would involve him speaking and I knew I’d have to share time with many others.

I first heard Uncle Lee speak when I was in high school. Up until then, though I knew what he did for a living, I didn’t quite realize the impact he had. That day several decades ago, I saw him captivate a room, talking about one of my favorite things: books. I saw and heard the admiration from a group of librarians.

At NCTE, I saw another side. Somehow organizers managed to keep it from him, but person after person walked to the podium to explain the impact he made in their careers and even their lives. Sitting there with him, I couldn’t have been prouder. Along with other attendees, I went home with a special edition of poems written in his honor. The short book, Dear One was named for the salutation in many of his emails. (I like several others, thought I was the only “Dear One.”) Unfortunately, that was the last time I would have the opportunity to hear him speak publicly.

In May 2014, I traveled to Hershey, PA, where we had enjoyed so many Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award celebrations, but this time he wouldn’t be there. One afternoon he called to tell me he was going to be presented with the Pennsylvania School Librarians’ Association Outstanding Pennsylvania Author award. Since he no longer traveled much, he wanted to know if I would be willing to go accept the award in his stead. Though I would have rather accompanied him, of course I agreed.  Though he hadn’t heard of this award before, he was genuinely astounded and flattered at the company he would be joining.

After much consideration about what to say, I decided to share a bit about the man; everyone already knew about the legend. I shared how he fostered a love a books and therefore a love of learning.  I shared how we spent time doing fun things, how he encouraged me to write to a favorite author, resulting in years of correspondence.  I shared how I saw him, as a loving uncle, who happened to also be a famous writer. Though I considered closing as he would, with a reading of his poem, “Good Books, Good Times,” instead I chose a line from my favorite among his books, Been to Yesterdays (which I was honored to have the opportunity to read pre-publication). This line is one that speaks to me more than others.




This world

A whole lot




Grow up



A writer



Good bye, Uncle Lee, and God Bless. Thank you, for the Good Books, but especially for the Good Times.

(Hugs to Grandma and Uncle Misha.)


Just a sampling of the treasures entrusted to me…


A “great new paperback, GOODNiGHT MOON” – What a hoot!

Flashes of Womanhood

Jolted awake at 2 (or 3 or 4) am.

There is no baby crying

No toddler is at the side of my bed, staring me awake

There is no feverish child, looking for comfort

No teen is arriving home too late, trying to quietly creep to a bedroom,

The phone is silent; there is no emergency afar


This is a new stage

A warm wave washes over me, a reminder that the baby-making days are done

No regrets come with this reminder, just occasional melancholy

I miss the baby snuggles, the soft pats, seeing those “lightbulb” moments of toddlerhood

Like most parents, I wish I had played more, listened more, been fully present more

But active parenting is now in my past


Now that I am awake, the brain has been turned on

Tomorrow I have to remember to do X, Y and Z. Why didn’t I write that down?

How does anyone survive night after night of broken sleep?

Do other people simply fake being awake and functional?

Will the bags under my eyes ever go away?

Will I ever sleep through the night again? Have I asked this question before?


This is a phase that no one talks about, except to make jokes – Why?

Because all women go through it and we feel the need to “just suck it up?”

Because our lives have been blessed, so we can’t complain?

Because it means we truly have reached the other side?

Because it’s “impolite” and we might make others uncomfortable?

Why do we care what others think?


There is no good reason

This is a completely natural process

Why do we go through this alone?

We should talk about it more

Pass me a cold drink and a fan



Why We Should Just “Wear the Damn Swimsuit”

Wear the Damn Swimsuit: Lessons and Stories From Cancer and Life, by Ashli Brehm is an honest, encouraging and often funny account of her life with cancer. Diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 33, she recounts her feelings and worries and coping mechanisms in a frank and engaging way.

An accomplished blogger before the diagnosis, Ashli (I’m using her first name rather than the customary last because readers of her blog quickly feel more like friends) continued to write through her treatment, undoubtedly helping many others along the way. Her refrain to “Wear the damn swimsuit” references something many of us can relate to: a reluctance to be seen in public in such a revealing manner, and the realization she came to: such worries steal joy. While she acknowledges that there is a time for pity parties and that it’s okay to grumble about the negatives, focusing on the good makes the hard easier.

Cancer has touched most, if not all of our lives. Wear the Damn Swimsuit can help those of us on the outside better understand what life with cancer may be like. A common question: “How can I help? “is addressed and though some may prefer more privacy, Ashli’s open attitude throughout the book (and as her blog followers can attest, also through her treatment) can help us better support those undergoing treatment (for example: “Do What You Know How to Do”).

The book is refreshingly honest. No topic is taboo. She talks about books, poop and sex. She talks about hopes, fears and dreams. She talks about others who didn’t survive their cancer diagnosis.  She tells the story of her BonBoobvage party before her mastectomy and offers details about the planning process for her Foobs (fake boobs).

Not just a cancer survivor’s memoir, the book also provides advice on motherhood and marriage we can all take to heart. While not everyone has the stress of an unexpected and major health crisis, every marriage has its own struggles and at some point, parenting is hard for everyone. The lessons she shares point out that while our lives are our own, many experiences are common to us all.


Note: No compensation was made for this review. The opinions are exclusively mine. KY

Today’s Teen Girls Are Under Pressure

It’s a common headline: We are in the midst of a scary mental health epidemic. It is apparent that stress and anxiety are much more common today than a generation ago and none of our teens seem to be immune. The teen years are a challenging time for parents, many of whom struggle to find ways to support their children without being overbearing. Lisa Damour’s new book Under Pressure takes a hard look at the stress today’s teens are experiencing and provides concrete examples of how parents can help.

A psychologist with years of experience working with adolescent girls, Damour explores stress, pointing out it isn’t stress itself that’s the problem, but unhealthy levels of stress. She says that stress is essential for growth and development; it helps us push past our comfort zones to tackle new challenges or warn us of threats or dangerous risks. Stress only becomes a problem when it hijacks rational thought and interferes with everyday activities.

Designed to help parents help their daughters (though much of the information applies to boys as well, girls are disproportionately affected by stress), the book is separated by sources of stress: home life, other girls, boys, school and the outside world.

In the area of home life, Damour talks about busy schedules and their impact on mental health. She addresses technology and reminds us that we as parents know more about our children than our parents knew about us. She acknowledges that groups of girls will have conflict and addresses how today’s technology complicates communication and also impact girls’ sleep patterns, upping their anxiety.

Damour talks about sexual harassment and the “double standard” that requires girls to “behave” better than boys. She makes observations some parents may miss such as: girls are overly concerned about how others feel and feel guilty about their own negative feelings, and that maintaining a “public persona” is a big source of stress, especially for those who feel that anything short of “full disclosure” compromises personal integrity.   While taking risks (and the associated stress) is part of learning, too often a focus on grades and “being good” brings stress to an unhealthy level.

This book makes an effective argument that anxiety in itself is not a threat but a warning system.  As parents we can help our teens by acknowledging their fears without judging and talking to them; it’s important that we maintain an open line of communication. It is also on parents to be proactive and initiate tough conversations. Under Pressure is a useful guide to help us not only see the issues but also to help our teens take some of the pressure off.


I received a copy of Under Pressure from Net Galley free of charge; these opinions are my own. (Full disclosure – I plan to purchase a hard copy for future reference.)

#UnderPressure #NetGalley

You Can Live a Full Life After an Eating Disorder


book cover image: spoon, plate and fork, Living FULL:Winning My Battle With Eating Disorders, Danielle Sherman-Lazar

I recently read an advance copy of Living FULL: Winning My Battle With Eating Disorders by Danielle Sherman-Lazar. Particularly as a mom of three daughters, at times this book  was difficult to read. (Yes, I know boys have eating disorders too, but girls seem more susceptible.) Despite this, I believe that this book should be on every family’s bookshelf. Written as a narrative from Danielle’s younger self, interspersed with excerpts from a blog she started while in recovery, it will help both individuals in the depths of an eating disorder and their parents feel that they are not alone.

In a straightforward way that disallows judgments or excuses, Sherman-Lazar lays out how she felt about herself and food and clearly shows that her eating disorder controlled her. Her battle began at an early age and she suffered for years before finally acknowledging she needed help at age 26.

This is not an academic book on anorexia and bulimia (she was diagnosed with both), but a brave recounting of a young woman’s journey. Seeing life through her eyes can help other parents realize this can happen in any family. It is apparently quite easy for a teen to avoid eating or to “cleanse” their body without parents noticing. (Though as a parent, I see that there are some signs that would indicate we should pay closer attention as well as yet another reason to keep the lines of communication open during the turbulent teen years.)

While not explicitly stated, the point is made that (as is true for any addiction) a person with an eating disorder needs to want help for it to be effective. While the story is told from her point of view, Sherman-Lazar shows how her parents waited in the wings, immediately swooping in when she called for help, possibly fast-tracking her recovery. Once begun, she doesn’t sugar-coat her recovery and is honest about the struggles. To help others better understand the process (whether they themselves or a loved one is undertaking it) the book also includes some of the Food & Feelings Journals she was required to keep as part of her Maudsley recovery. Here she not only lists what she ate, but how she felt, about the food and herself.

In the book, we learn it takes five to seven years to recover fully from anorexia. Before hitting this milestone, Sherman-Lazar became pregnant; she also briefly shares her thoughts and mental struggles (as well as some tips about what helped her) of this period of her life and suggests that being a mom (a long-held goal) helped her progress as she was determined to have healthy children and do her best to ensure they grow up with healthy body image.

While the details are frightening at times, we are left with hope and the sense that, while not guaranteed, full recovery is possible.

You can read more about Sherman-Lazar and her life in recovery at Living a Full Life After ED.