Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.

A Librarian speaks out…

It’s so weird to be tangentially part of a little controversy.

Recently first lady Melania Trump sent out packages of books to libraries around America and she picked, of all books to send, a bunch of Dr. Seuss books. As if all libraries don’t already carry them!

Well Liz Phipps Soeiro wrote a public post saying ‘Thanks but no thanks’ that ended up going viral. She quotes Dr. Seuss’s penchant for perpetuating racist stereotypes. In fact recently it was suggested that the ‘Cat’, in the The Cat in the Hat was black which gives the reading of the story a completely different flavor!!!

I think it took an incredible amount of courage on her part to speak truth to power.

Full disclosure, I actually know Liz. She’s booked me numerous times for skype visits for her school but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I agree with her decision anyway.

Ms. Soeiro created a list of ten books that Melania Trump would have done better to hand out.

These are books that promote cross cultural understanding and tolerance!

I was tickled to see my book King for a Day on the list.

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Here is the Quill & Quire’s take on the controversy.

Canadian titles among diverse kids’ books librarian suggests to Melania Trump

I hope very much that the pressure that Liz Phipps Soeiro received taking her principled stance doesn’t discourage future librarians to call out the powers that be when they want to do politically expedient but rather empty gestures of patronage.

Personally, I’m proud to know her!

There is helping and there is hindering.

Hindering is where you’re actually handicapping the person you think you’re helping so that they’ll never learn the skills necessary to be able to stand on their own.

Helping is when you see someone being overwhelmed, and you step in, strategically!

It’s very important.

You never know when taking such an action can save a person, give them just enough encouragement to keep going till relief comes.

I think I’m in the sandwich generation phase of my life.

That’s when I’m dealing with elderly parents who need help and children who sometimes need help too.

Sometimes you end the week sore and exhausted. But even when that happens, I feel happy that I’d picked up some of the slack.

In this day and age of heightened acknowledgement of the fragility of mental health, you never know when the help you’ve rendered makes the difference between stressful functioning and despair!

When the elderly person you called, who’s been struggling, perks up enough to keep on going and same for the young mother who needed just a little bit of help.

Sometimes I feel like the mat of a trampoline. Like I’m being pulled upon by all kinds of family obligations.

And yet I believe in doing what I can.

Especially when it comes to family, I say yes as much as I can, so that when the time comes (and it inevitably does come) when I have to say ‘no’ I can do so without any feelings of regret.

I was talking to a family member recently and he was saying that I’m not like other women he knows. I said, “Yeah, I’m totally blunt.”

And he agreed and he told me he loved me for it.

And in the moment I realized that over the years the way I’ve learned to stop gossiping and backbiting is to take the things that irk me and say it in a polite way, so the person can actually deal with it. Or…shut up about it.

For example, a lot of cattiness involves personal comments about the way a person looks. Really? Who cares! We all have times when we don’t look our best. Making fun of others is just the worst thing you can possibly do.

But…some backbiting is an airing of grievances.

Talking to other people about what so and so did only creates ‘fitna’. Fitna is an excellent Arabic word that sounds like what it means, ‘trouble’ trial, difficulty. Fitna! I love that word!

It’s better to just speak to the person you’ve got the problem with, tell them politely why you can’t accommodate them or…if you’re only going to deal with them every once in a while, suck it up and ignore them.

That was a recent course of action I took. I was fuming over something that had happened, and then I thought wait a minute! I only have to deal with this person in this way once a year! Why do I care?

Let it go.

And so I did.

I don’t care what that person thinks. I’ll just avoid them as much as I can and I absolutely won’t count on them for anything!

No gossip. No backbiting!

Move on.

Nothing to see here folks.

There’s an OISE article about how anthropomorphic animal stories are not as effective at conveying lessons as stories with real children in them.

I am not surprised by these findings.

The study was done on pre-schoolers.

That age is not conducive to ambiguity. You need to spell it out.

And yet so many parents and educators avoid stories with obvious morals.

This is a mistake.

A lot of the anxiety our children are experiencing these days is a direct result of a tentative approach to morality.

Moral tales might seem heavy-handed to us, but they are not to children! Pre-school children need confidence when it comes to what is right and wrong. I’m talking universal mores: sharing is good, be kind, don’t hit people, have good manners, the golden rule.

One of my grandkids’ favorites is called Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry by Samantha Berger.

Yes it’s an anthropomorphized tale, Martha is an otter, but surprisingly my grandkids get the message and even though it has a moral, they often choose the book themselves to read.

When I read it to them, after each of the outrageous things that Martha does, I ask them, “What should she do?” and even the little two year olds whisper, “She should say ‘sorry’.”

They get it.

It’s so important for me to engage them like that. If I didn’t, perhaps they wouldn’t extrapolate the lesson to themselves. It sure has made it easier for them to say the little words ‘I’m sorry.”

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At this age, we need to be serious with kids. Tell it like it is. Give them the moral tools in order to establish the ethical foundation they’ll need to navigate life. And do so with confidence!

Pre-school is not the time to be tentative!

Go ahead and explain what is right and wrong. Then as they grow and are exposed to different cultures, discuss how they might view aspects of morality differently but how basic principles, like the golden rule, are true for everyone.



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I’ve been thinking a lot about addiction these days.

It’s all over the news, the opioid epidemic and it’s starting to hit Toronto, where I live.

Two eighteen year old girls recently went into a building downtown and overdosed in a stairwell.

There was a fascinating study done about cocaine addiction.

They had this rat in a metal cage and offered it a choice between water and water laced with cocaine.

It’s not surprising that the rat chose the water laced with cocaine and kept drinking till it overdosed on it.

But one scientist observing the data made an interesting observation.

What else did the rat have to live for?

Maybe it was the cage.

So he developed a new experiment, one where the cage was much larger, had a number of interesting activities and stimuli and you know what happened? The rat didn’t get addicted to the cocaine water.

And he deduced that it was the cage.

It’s fascinating that in the most advanced culture and civilization in the world, opioid addiction should be such a problem.

What is it about our lifestyles here in the West that is causing so many people to turn to narcotic addiction?

It’s devastating.

Personally I think it’s because we are primarily dissatisfied.

We have been sold a bill of goods, that anyone can accomplish anything if they try hard enough, and although there is truth in that statement, it’s not as simple as all that.

I have a friend, an ex-lawyer who has developed a nice career in the children’s literature field.

Oprah’s minions approached her at one point to be interviewed for some show they were doing on career success but ultimately they rejected profiling her, you know why?

Because she’d spent too long studying and developing her talent to be considered a miraculous success story!

They were interested in the ‘over night’ sensation story, but most people are not over night sensations. They work hard towards goals, and they do it even when they might want to give up.

So when we’re in the midst of the grind, the doldrums, the mucking through to get the project done, that seems to be when people need to ‘escape’ their reality.

But really, if you are living a healthy stimulating life, if  you are doing and working towards something you really believe in, why would you ever need alcohol or drugs to escape?

Maybe the people who are in the midst of addiction need to re-evaluate their lives.

What is so wrong with living a life nurturing the children in your care? Earning enough to keep a roof over their heads and food in their bellies and working towards the future?

Someone said that comparison is the thief of happiness, and that is very true.

We need to change our cages.

Life isn’t only composed of the ‘successful’ moments.

The other evening I was talking to a voracious reader who’d picked up a copy of Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. And she said to me, “It must be so hard when the father drinks and runs away and he’s trying to find him. Why do they do that?”

And I answered quite honestly (and forgive me if this sounds a bit smug) that it is very hard and alhamdu lillah the fact that alcohol and drugs are forbidden in Islam saves us from a lot of that.

I wonder if we can make our cages interesting enough for everyone to not ever need narcotics.

I wonder if the allure of them can be completely resisted for all.

It seems to be mainstream.

The way comedians joke about getting wasted, the way singers sing about getting wasted, the way they joke about how much fun they must have had because they can’t remember a thing…

It’s just something I’ve never been able to tap into because it’s forbidden.

And what’s wrong with that?

Maybe we just do need to forbid these things to ourselves.

All I know is that I have no qualms that I would behave in any more superior a manner if I’d indulged in those things. The reason why I stayed away is simple, my religion forbids them and I obeyed, and by the grace of God, that saved me.

And as religion loses even more authority, and society decays more and more, I can’t see things getting much better.

We’ll see.

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Children’s literature is an interesting field!

There’s a whole canon of academia that wrangles over the minutiae of an author’s choices.

It’s quite fascinating to watch them wrangling actually.

I went to the IRSCL conference over the last few days, it began with its opening keynote on Saturday evening and then wrapped up on Wednesday August 2nd.

Being an academic conference there were delegates from all over the world, mostly professors of children’s literature, and Phd students attending.

I had been approached by one student, I think she was from Spain, who was writing a dissertation on my book Wanting Mor. She presented a paper on it at the conference, and out of curiosity I want to get my hands on it to see what she said.

I find conferences exhausting! They’re so mentally rigorous, there are so many ideas bombarding you as you sit there, that your brain kind of goes numb after a while.

I made sure to attend the opening keynote on Saturday. To me the opening keynote really sets the tone for the rest of the conference.

Five past presidents spoke about various aspects of children’s literature. One of them spoke of ‘whiteness’ in children’s literature and I really appreciated that!

But honestly, it was jarring to see these five past presidents, all of whom were white, sitting up there side by side.

And I marveled that it seemed odd.

When I first began in this career, it was anything but odd!!!

I also went to the panel on Indigenous literature. And sat right in the front row! Boy did I look like an eager beaver!

Drew Hayden Taylor was on the panel and he spoke about how in his work he’d melded aspects of Indigenous Drew Hayden Taylorculture with pop cultural tropes (is that the right word? I’m not sure but doesn’t it sound so intellectual!!!) in that he wrote a story about a native vampire who was over 350 years old, he’d been captured by European colonizers and transported to Europe as a curiosity to show the kings, and there he’d been bitten by a vampire and joined the ranks of the undead.

Drew is hilarious! I had met him down at Harbourfront where we’d been on a panel together. You know how sometimes you meet someone but it’s the second meeting with them where you really get to know each other better? Well it helped that we sat together at the final dinner and exchanged anecdotes.

I think the most interesting person on the panel though was this eighty year old lady who had collaborated with her daughter in law on her biographical experience of her time in the residential school system. Her name was Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and the name of her book was Fatty Legs. I definitely want to get this book!

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The panel I was on was called The Media and the Message and oh what an interesting group of people we were!!!

There was Zetta Elliot, a fiery African American activist who’s self-published numerous books both picture books and novels! She’s recently sold a couple of novels to Random House which will be coming out soon but she’s most famous for her book Bird which I quite loved! It’s a quiet, thoughtful book about a boy dealing with his brother’s addiction problems. Won all kinds of accolades!

Image result for bird by zetta elliott  Image result for zetta elliott

Loved, loved, loved Shauntay Grant’s presentation as well! She’s a singer and spoken word artist and has a voice as rich and smooth as Swiss chocolate! She read from this book I believe, Up Home.

Image result for shauntay grant  Image result for shauntay grant

And rounding out the panel was Vivek Shraya who is transgender and had written a book about gender fluidity called The Boy In the Bindi. Vivek ended the presentation saying that children’s books needed to deal more with sexuality and read a piece about masturbation from one of Vivek’s books. While the story was amusing, I couldn’t see it being appropriate in a school setting. Not as a read aloud which is what it seemed that Vivek may have been advocating, but perhaps not, not sure.

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All the other presenters on the panel used technology but I decided to just tell my story. I spoke a lot about my father and about Wanting Mor.

In the opening keynote one of the speakers had spoken about raising ‘good white children’ and how this father had gone into his child’s room when he wouldn’t go to sleep and he had hit him. There was a bit of an assumption on the speaker’s part that this was abusive, and while it probably was, it left a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Growing up in Asian culture, that wasn’t unusual at all. It didn’t mean my father was abusive, but this was the implication. I decided to mention it in my presentation as my story dealt with it.

The response to the panel was amazing! We each brought our strengths and we were all so different. The group gave us a standing ovation and afterwards several people came up to me and shared stories about their fathers.

Later on, during the gala dinner, a lady came up to me and told me that she hadn’t wanted to come to the conference at all! She was African American and I got the impression she felt she wouldn’t be represented. She said my talk had made the entire conference worth while for her and she was SO glad she’d seen me!

She was not the only one who reacted this way.

It was humbling!

I came away from the conference feeling uplifted. Really positive!


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The IRSCL conference…

I’m so honored to be presenting at the International Research into Children’s Literature conference this year!

The venue for this international academically oriented conference changes every two years. This year it’s in Toronto and they invited me to be on a panel with some other authors.

The thing is, even though it’s tempting to just go for my own session and skip the rest of the conference, I decided instead to take advantage of the free registration and attend as many sessions as I can. So I braved the traffic and the heat and went last night to the opening keynote and boy am I glad I did!

The opening keynote basically sets the mood for the entire conference, it’s very important. The past presidents of the IRSCL each gave ten minute talks about various aspects of children’s literature.

It was held in a huge auditorium and the program began with a native ceremony and an acknowledgement that we were on the lands of Canada’s indigenous people.

A very nice touch!

I sat down and looked around and realized, wow, for an international conference, I’m the only one wearing hijab!

And then I looked around again and checked skin color and from where I sat I was the darkest person in the room!


It’s a weird feeling to be that different!

Mostly I’m used to it but this is an INTERNATIONAL conference! People came from all over the world! Why were they so white? And part of me wondered if maybe only white people really care about children’s literature and then I thought, no way! And remembered the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.

I’m thinking that IRSCL should partner with them, the work they’re both doing overlaps in spots!

There was a reception afterwards with a tabla playing duo (another nice touch!) and finger foods.

I needed some water! But they only had some kind of fruit punch and then diet coke (it was too late for caffeine for me) and a bunch of wine and beer–out of the question of course!!!!

Finally a friend showed me a water fountain and I filled up a cup.

Ended up having a fascinating conversation with some of the delegates and while I went to get some of the fruit punch I met a delegate from Washington who said she’d seen me at the NCTE Atlanta and that she ‘loves me’. She was the first of several fans I got to meet that evening.

This might sound pathetic but it felt SO good to meet people who take the work you do so seriously!

In the midst of all the rejections, failures and frustrations that lie in trying to compose a new work of art, meeting people who love you because of your work feels amazing!

It had been a rough month!

I’d had quite a few negative experiences too personal to get into and then there was this…

I find life is like this. You get the negative and you get the positive and even though you learn a lot more from the negative you need the positive, just to give you hope, to keep on going.

My panel is on Monday afternoon down at the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library. It houses the Osbourne collection and is one of the nicest branches in the city!

Should be fascinating! Can’t wait to hear what the other panelists say! I already know what I’m going to say.


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Burning the candle at both ends…

I know I’ve been scarce in terms of blogosphere and that is always good news in some ways because it means the writing of fiction is going well!

Alhamdu lillah, it is.

I’m working on two projects and strangely enough one makes me laugh and the other makes me cry.

They kind of balance each other out.

I had some trouble with my email recently.

Couldn’t access it from my desktop only my phone which meant I couldn’t do the myriad business things I have to do as an author, couldn’t send invoices, couldn’t read pdf’s of upcoming  engagements, stuff like that.

But alhamdu lillah all that’s been resolved.

I had been working hard on a project dear to my heart but because of all the tech stuff I spent a day not able to access my Word program and that particular project, so… I cracked open the other one. The one that makes me laugh, really guffaw, a bit like a hyena!


Even as I write this I’m chuckling.

I know though that some people in my life would not approve. One person dear to me is always warning me about jumping from project to project like a rabbit nibbling patches of clover.

And to a certain point I agree.

Multi-tasking is not very efficient, they have found that to be true.

And yet…

How fresh I feel!

My stories are usually either incredibly sad or rib-ticklingly funny. I’d been working on the sad one so long it was quite refreshing to be able to laugh.

And then I remembered something rather interesting. Way back, about ten years ago, this is how I wrote. I would work on one project till I got stuck on it and felt tired, and then I’d switch to another until I got stuck on that and went back to the first project.

The point I’m trying to make is each artist has to find whatever works for them. No two artists have the same process and it’s okay to do things differently as long as you’re making progress.

In fact I’m so excited there’ve been some days I’ve worked on both projects!

Now that’s burning the candle on both ends!

I just hope that come September I have a lot, insha Allah, to show for it!


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On the eve of Canada Day 150…

I confess I feel a little conflicted celebrating the sesquicentennial of Canada!

I’ve been reading a graphic novel about Louis Riel, and I think all Canadians can put away any smugness we might feel about being ‘kinder’ to the native Americans. We weren’t.

And a hundred and fifty years later, we have a handsome charismatic leader in Justin Trudeau who talks nice but hasn’t done anything to remedy the situation yet!

Like every other prime minister before him!

Whether tory or liberal, doesn’t matter, they all neglect the native population because frankly, we the people of Canada allow them to.

I read an interesting quote on the definition of patriotism being the admiration for my country, thinking it’s superior to every other, simply because I was born there.

For the most part that’s pretty accurate I think.

Except I wasn’t born here.

I was born in Pakistan.

And I do believe Canada is superior only because there is a little more justice here.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some corruption.

And we can still be vulnerable to xenophobic forces, but for the most part, it’s the best place in the world to live.

Canada has been kind to me.

And I love Canada!

Yay Canada!

Flag of Canada.svg


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Investing in yourself…

I recently got back from my first Highlights Foundation workshop.

Highlights Foundation is located on a family homestead in eastern Pennsylvania, a small town called Honesdale.

For years they’ve been running writing workshops, retreats, that are lauded as some of the best writing intensives around.

They’re affiliated with Boyds Mills Press, a publisher that has been around for many many years and they produce the Highlights magazine!

You’ve probably seen it!

I remember rushing to it in the library especially for the Hidden Pictures puzzle. It was always in demand!

For years I’ve been on their emailing list, drooling over the workshops they offered, wishing I could go.

For the past seven years I’ve been working really hard but with little to show for it. I’ve written the equivalent of about five full length novels only to rack up rejections!

And I can’t even count the picture book manuscripts I’ve written.

It was an article I read on the Highlights email, some advice one of their faculty gave about not just writing for yourself that really clicked for me.

You see the problem is, I had changed! In the process of acquiring knowledge, researching everything from psychology to terrorism, I had expanded my mind and begun to see things in a different light and that reflected in my writing. I can see past the behavior of some pretty unlikeable characters and I find them a bit more fascinating in some ways.

But…most readers would not.

Well the article I read was written by Deborah Heiligman and called Writing for Yourself AND the Reader.

I highly recommend it!

Well with all the frustrated failures I’ve been experiencing I was looking at their workshops, somehow I was drawn particularly to the graphic novel workshop! I knew nothing about graphic novels and yet a friend had suggested we collaborate on one.

But the workshop was beyond my means. $1199 USD.

And then saw a message saying that they had scholarships available.

I have taken a scholarship to a writing retreat before. It was to Kindling Words, another fantastic writing workshop I highly recommend!

But the problem with scholarships like this is they make me feel so obliged! I feel so indebted, and I hate feeling indebted! That I usually find a way to donate back the funds I received so someone else can benefit.

Well, I applied for a scholarship! And I got one for $900! I only had to pay $300, and voila I was able to go.

Sometimes you need to invest in yourself!

If you’re spinning your wheels, working hard but not getting any traction, you need to do something to jump start the process. That’s what this workshop turned out to be.

It was a toss up between the graphic novel workshop and verse novel workshop. I knew less about graphic novels so I chose that, and when I got there, for the four days, it was SO intensive, so exciting, I was learning SO much I could barely sleep!

I don’t know when I’ve felt this revved up!

I took one of the projects that had received more than twenty-two rejections, and am currently reworking it as a graphic novel. The process has been fascinating!

Thinking visually has made me drastically overhaul it!

It’s been very eye-opening!

I highly highly recommend any author or illustrator attend one of the Highlights Foundation workshops!

Oh…and the food was amazing!

And as a Muslim the staff did SO much to accommodate my needs! It was so moving!

(I just noticed how many of my sentences end in exclamation marks! Normally I would go back and edit, but what the heck! They are definitely called for so I’ll leave them. ;o))

On another note, I was recently visiting a relative and we were talking about career advancement or something and this elder relative kept saying, “It’s who you know… It’s who you know…”

Like me she’s an immigrant. And I found it surprising.

And it got me thinking.

I grew up at a time when society was more upwardly mobile. We had hope. I worked hard, I learned harder, I never gave up and I got a lot of my dreams to come true, alhamdu lillah, and yet, I didn’t know anyone in this business.

I’ve come to know people, but when I was starting up, nope. I knew no one!

I don’t believe it’s always ‘who you know’.

You can rise above the slush pile.

I did.

And yet, in the process I’m happy to say I have helped others.

I’m so proud that one of my dear friends’ S. K. Ali’s debut novel has just been released. It’s called Saints and Misfits and I just finished reading it, and loved it!

It’s quite different from what I first read from her. And it deserves all the starred reviews it’s earned so far!!! (3 Yay!)

You go girl!

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It’s so funny that my last blog post was wondering about direction!

Yesterday I returned from the Highlights Foundation workshop on Graphic Novels. It was their first workshop on the genre and it was absolutely amazing!

The Highlights Foundation is the same that has been putting out Highlights Magazine for more than forty years!

The retreats and workshops are held at their facility in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. It’s a very small town, rural setting, gorgeous views and hiking trails, idyllic!

I had never been!

The price can seem steep. The price for the Graphic Novel workshop was $1199 for Sunday to Wednesday.

But oh…it is worth it!!!

I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship. They are available. I got a scholarship for $900 so I ended up paying $299 ($300). That might have covered the food, which was gourmet and delicious!

Thing about scholarships though is that they always leave me feeling indebted. I had gotten a scholarship to Kindling Words which is another fantastic writing workshop you should look into, way back! And I was able to send them a cheque later on, to contribute towards future scholarships. I intend to do the same for Highlights Foundation.

As soon as I got there, I felt excited, and I did something I never imagined I would do.

You were supposed to take a project with you. Something short  you could work on and get feedback on. Well I took a project but at the last minute I stuck another story of mine, one I’d written about fifteen years ago, in my handbag.

Wouldn’t you know, that’s the project I ended up working on!

I had to leave home by 4 am on Sunday morning and I arrived at Highlights Foundation by around 1 pm, exhausted. I had planned to take a nap but instead of sleeping I ended up doodling a graphic novel dummy based on the second project I’d stuck in my bag.

All afternoon, I created panels of a graphic novel/comic book even before the first session began.

I figured I’d tire myself out and sleep well that night.

What a mistake!

Oh talk about intense!

We began the workshop at 5:30 Sunday June 11th. Basically getting to know each other, and it was led by Matt Phelan who is an accomplished graphic novelist and illustrator. He did the illustrations for the Newbery Award-winner The Higher Power of Lucky.

There was Kelly Light author/illustrator of the Louise Loves Art books who gave us insight into her process. She was such a hoot! At one point we were singing cheesy seventies songs together! Like: Billy Don’t be a Hero! and One Tin Soldier!

And there was Merrill Rainey, who’s a graphic artist and showed us how to show emotion!

And David Saylor the head of Scholastic’s Graphix imprint came by on Tuesday afternoon so we could pick his brains and he could give us a one-on-one session about our work. It was SO hard not to fangirl him!!!

I wasn’t the only author there. There were at least three of us who couldn’t much draw. But yeah mostly it was illustrators and I felt at a deep disadvantage.

It felt like my mind was literally opening up! Like my cranium was splitting open to dust out the cobwebs in my brain and let some sunshine in!

It was both painful and exhilarating at the same time!

That night, I was too excited to sleep. I started to see the possibilities of repackaging so many of stories that weren’t quite working!

If I’d spent the entire $1200 it would have been worth every penny! As it was I was bending over backwards with profuse thanks and gratitude for the opportunity to the point I kept telling myself, “Okay, shut up already!”

Too much gratitude can be kind of cloying. The best thing I can do is pay it forward!

I highly highly recommend the workshops at Highlights Foundation!

Here’s their website:


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