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Friendly Family

“Get up, get up!  Get up, get up!”

Blanca’s song “Get Up” blares from my iPod.  As I roll over, my alarm clock then begins to beep.  It is 5:00 a.m.  Time to start my day.

I sleepily rub my eyes and place Hope, my blind/deaf Dachshund, on the floor.  She charges off down the hall barking and wagging her tail.  Hope knows that breakfast is soon to come.

My feet automatically find the pair of slippers that I keep next to my side of the bed.  I then make the sleepy shuffle to the bathroom to wash my face.  Feeling slightly more awake, I get dressed and head to the kitchen.

Hope gets fed first.  If she does not, she will bark until food is placed into her pink dish.  With my cereal in hand, I happily turn on an episode of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.  This always starts my day off right.

Time for the war paint!  I love to listen to one of my favorite podcasts while painting my canvas.  My top three podcasts are:  The Jillian Michaels Show, FOMO Fanz by Brian Fanzo and The Bryan Kramer show.  Being able to multitask while getting helpful fitness and entrepreneur tips is a big time saver for me and also helps my brain to begin focusing.

After kissing my fur babies goodbye, I grab my lunch bag and head out the door.  Music begins blasting from my car stereo.  I am one of those crazy people that loves to sing and make up little dances while driving.  I hope that my fellow drivers don’t think I am having a seizure!

Cresting the hill, I begin to smile.  On the right side of the road stands a family consisting of a father and his young son and daughter.  They happily smile and wave to the traffic passing by.  I love waving back and seeing the kids’ faces light up.

Even in the winter months, they man their post.  I will never forget seeing the little girl bundled up in her winter coat and pom-pom hat waving for all she was worth one chilly December morning.  Their father even provides hot cocoa to keep them warm.

Sometimes, the family’s golden retriever joins in on the fun.  I have even witnessed the father sans children standing by the side of the road with his morning cup of coffee.  This family is doing their part to make a difference in this world.  Just the simple act of waving can truly brighten someone’s day.  My heart always swells when I see them.

So often we feel that we need to do something huge in order to make a difference.  We believe that smaller actions do not have a great impact.  Or even worse, we expect to get praise for our grand gestures.

This family is proving that change can be affected in the smallest of actions.  They are saying so many things with each wave of their hands.  “Someone cares about you.  Have a great day!  Pay the smile forward!”

I have often thought of pulling over and telling them how much their kindness means to me.  They have truly become an important part of my life.  When I am having a bad morning, they turn it all around.  I am reminded that selfless people do still exist.

Seeing them also fills me with hope for future generations.  This father is definitely raising his children right.  He is teaching them that the world is bigger than their cell phone screen.  That there are more important things in life than getting the highest score on Candy Crush.

Leading by example, the father is instilling a sense of empathy.  He is also taking the time to invest in his children’s lives.  They could be standing alone at the end of their driveway waiting for the school bus as many children tend to do.  This man is a shining example how all parents should behave.

 

We all have the power to make someone’s day just a little brighter.  There is no need for flashing neon lights or a mariachi band.  It only takes a pebble to create a thousand ripples.  Maybe you could start the ripple effect by smiling at a stranger you pass on the street.  Try purchasing an extra breakfast burrito on your morning McDonald’s run and give it to a homeless person that you see on the corner.  Compliment a co-worker on his/her outfit or hair style.

Be brave!  Take the first step in making the world a better place.  Together, we can be the change.

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ALA Annual Conference 2017

We stood anxiously waiting on the corner.  The valet had left to retrieve our vehicle twenty minutes ago.  I was scheduled to do a book signing at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois at 9:30 a.m.  According to my watch, it was already 9:15 a.m. Finally, our car arrived.  We hurriedly threw our bags into the trunk and left the unhappy valet tipless.

My husband channeled Mario Andretti as we raced to the venue.  Soon, the McCormick Convention Center towered before us.  Sun struck the glass building sending light cascading in all directions.  We found the parking garage and continued driving until we reached floor five.

Stepping inside, we were amazed at how spacious the facility was.  We raced up the escalator and made a mad dash for the registration table.  Once we had obtained our badges, we were on the run once again to fin the Independent Book Publishers Association booth.  Much to my dismay, we arrived at 9:40 a.m. and someone else was sitting in my seat happily signing copies of her book.

I was completely heartbroken.  I introduced myself to Lee, one of the IBPA staff members.  He immediately calmed my nerves by instructing me to take several deep breathes.  I explained the situation and Lee was quick to re-schedule my book signing at 3:00 p.m. that same day.  I was beyond grateful for his patience, understanding and most importantly, his help.  After telling me to take a few more deep breathes, Lee told me to enjoy the conference and he would see me at 2:45 p.m.

Standing next to my book on display at the IBPA booth!

 

My husband and I did not even know where to start.  Booths lined the entire interior of the conference center.  Fellow conference attendees raced from one side to the other, most carrying backpacks.  I soon found out why.

Many of the booths were giving away advanced reader copies of books that will be released this fall.  In a mere fifteen minutes, we already had five books in hand.  Thankfully, several of the publishing companies were also giving away free tote bags.

I did my best to take it all in.  My brain was definitely on overload.  Big name publishing houses such as Disney, Scholastic, Penguin and Harper Collins had massive displays.  Lines quickly formed wherever an author signing was being held.

In the back of the convention center was Artist’s Row.  Wizards of the Coast was present representing the importance of gaming via their Magic the Gathering card game.  I was beyond honored to meet Andy Runton, the creator of Owly, an enchanting series of both picture and comic style books.  He was so down to earth and we quickly bonded over our love of rescue animals.

Me with Andy Runton, creator of Owly!

Check out the amazing sketch Andy made!

This batty sketch is too adorable!

We then dined at the convention center food court located upstairs.  It was truly amazing to look out over the balcony and view the sea of people wandering throughout.  I also enjoyed getting to listen to librarians from across the country discussing important issues regarding children’s literacy initiatives.

Feeling re-energized after lunch, we jumped right back into the fray.  We were about to pass a small booth on the left when something caught my eye.  There was a copy of one of my favorite children’s books of all time:  Skippyjon Jones!  That is when I noticed the sign stating that Judy Schachner was going to be signing books that day at 3:00 p.m.

Uh-oh.  My book signing was at 3:00 p.m.  What could I do?  I did not want to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  My wonderful, fabulous husband had a solution.  He would wait in line and get her autograph while I attended my book signing.

Her publishing representatives could not have been nicer.  Matt was going to be the first person in line.  They asked us if we really thought Judy would attract that much attention and I answered with a resounding, “OH, YES!”  These amazing ladies even offered us the option of leaving our cart (filled with copies of my children’s book, Priceless Penny) at their booth as a place holder in line so that we did not have to keep lugging it around!

Matt refused to leave his post.  He knew how important getting Judy’s autograph was to me.  I decided to poke around the conference a bit more before signing time.  As luck would have it, I unknowingly joined the line for one of my favorite authors/illustrators, Ashley Spires!  She is such a sweet and caring person.  We talked about our fur babies and I discovered that she actually fosters kittens!

I could have talked to Ashley for hours, but the time of my book signing was rapidly approaching.  I hurriedly dropped off my new books with Matt, grabbed the cart and trundled my way to the IBPA booth.  Things went much smoother this time.  While waiting for the author before me to finish, some children walked up and began talking to me about my book.  I loved getting to share Penny’s story with them.

The book signing experience was surreal!  I looked up to see that a line of people had actually formed for my book.  I met so many wonderful librarians and their children.  It was truly one of the greatest moments of my life.

Little did I know, my husband was just a few feet away recording the event.  I am so blessed to be married to such a wonderful man!  He even took some photos so that I could share them on my social media sites.

My book signing at the IBPA booth was a success!

Matt got the autograph!  I love the inscription and cat sketch!

When my signing time came to an end, we decided to make one more lap around the conference before heading home.  I am so very glad that we did!  We ended up getting in line to meet even more authors and also got to re-connect with Ashley Spires!  This time she was giving away copies of her books Edie’s Ensembles and Over-Scheduled Andrew.  I cannot wait to read them!

I gave Ashley a copy of Priceless Penny and she wrote this truly humbling inscription!

 

I loved talking to Ashley about even more of our fur babies!

Even though the conference officially ended today, the hubs and I had to head back home since we both had to be at work.  We accumulated a total of 37 new books with over half being autographed.  Attending the ALA Conference was such a wonderful experience that we will definitely be going back next year!

Check out all of the new children’s books I snagged!

 

This is a collection of young reader and middle grade titles I scooped up.

I love the sketch of Pig in a boat that David drew!

 

 

Brendan’s cat sketch makes me smile!

 

A super personal inscription from Ashley Spires!

 

 

I love that Ashley signed each of her books in a different colored pen!

To learn more about the ALA Conference, please visit:  www.ala.org.

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A New Tale for a Rescued Kitten

Bruce’s tale very nearly didn’t start at all. A year and a half ago the bedraggled one-day old kitten was alone on a footpath in the rain.

Bruce just found

Luckily he was spotted by a woman who was walking home from work. She took him home and fed him around the clock to keep him alive.

Bruce being fed

The kitten was named after that other famous orphan, Bruce Wayne.

 

The tiny kitten’s story went viral. He now has over 32,600 Facebook fans from all over the world who hang on his every photo and exploit – including getting to know his “big sister” Jager (also a rescue cat), and changing colour from grey to black.

 

(This video explains how Bruce changed colour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwDe8n9WgMk)

 

Along with climbing trees and frolicking in the garden, Bruce now dedicates himself to raising awareness of other cats and kittens in need. Bruce has helped other cats like DeeDee find forever homes.

Frolicking in the garden (1)

Kathryn van Beek (Bruce’s human) has now written and illustrated a children’s picture book called Bruce Finds a Home.

Bruce Finds A Home book cover

The book, which is based on the story of how Bruce was found, encourages children to care for and be kind to animals.

 

The book supports The Animal Rescue Network, a charitable trust dedicated to helping stray and abandoned cats and kittens.

 

Bruce is currently running a Kickstarter campaign which allows people to pre-order copies of the book. There’s a range of rewards for those who pledge, including custom illustrations and even Bruce’s pawtograph! You can find Bruce’s Kickstarter page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kathrynvanbeek/bruce-finds-a-home

 

The book is already 87% funded with two weeks of the four-week Kickstarter campaign still to run. We feel sure that Bruce will achieve his goal of releasing his book, supporting The Animal Rescue Network and encouraging children to be kind to animals.

 

(This video documents Bruce’s life so far: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTlHIEyjeuw&t=28s

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Poisoning Perfection

My heart was beating wildly.  Slowly, the teacher made her way around the room.  She stopped at my desk and handed me a white card.  Taking a deep breath, I flipped it over.  YES!  Straight A’s!

My parents expected nothing less.  This could be due to the face that my mother was a teacher.  I remember going on full lock down to study for finals.  When I say “lock down,” I mean that we would study for five hours straight.  Seriously!

If I received an A-, my mom would grill me asking why it wasn’t an A+.  She was not overjoyed like many of my classmates’ parents would have been.  I was held to a much higher standard.

I was not expected to attend an Ivy League college, but I was to do my absolute best every day.  Often times, this meant missing out on doing things with my friends.  Education came first.

Mom revealed to me more recently in my adult life that the reason she demanded so much of me academically is because her mother never took an interest in her schooling.  She knows now that she went overboard, but to me, the damage has been done.  I have carried that pressure for perfection with me into adulthood.

Upon graduating from college, I was so excited to enter the working world.  I saw myself getting a fantastic job that I would absolutely love.  I would continue to work hard like I always had and would be financially rewarded.  I could look at myself in the mirror every day and happily know that I was successful.

What I soon discovered was that the working world is not the same one that my parents had.  The job market was scarce for people with journalism degrees.  People who had retired were having to come out of retirement due to the failing economy.  And those that have the fantastic jobs continue to hang onto them for dear life.

My work ethic and positive personality were hardly ever appreciated by my employers.  And certainly not by my co-workers.  It seemed that I was the “problem child” that “made everyone look bad.”  The dream world that I had created in my mind shattered.

The perfectionist programming did not help me achieve my dreams.  Instead, it made me feel like a huge failure.  I was doing everything that my parents had told me to do, following all of the rules and still getting nowhere.

I began to criticize and internalize everything that I did.  I must not be working hard enough.  My best must not be good enough.  I am not good enough.

In 2016, I self-published my first children’s book, Priceless Penny.  The story chronicles the amazing adoption journey of my tripawd Chiweenie, Penny.  I thought that the book would become an instant best seller.  Visions of television and book store appearances filled my head.

I worked tirelessly on Penny’s social media accounts.  I created and maintained Penny’s website, making sure to upload photos and videos almost daily.  Networking became like a second job.  I was always promoting Penny and her story.

Yet, Penny was not launched into the ranks of animal superstars like Tuna, Nala Cat and Lil Bub.  I could not understand it.  Penny’s story is so special and (being the biased fur mom that I am) she is beyond adorable.  What was I doing wrong?  What I should have been asking myself was why am I comparing Penny to other animals?

Perfection is a dangerous thing.  It makes enjoying life nearly impossible.  I realized that I have spent most of my life beating myself up over things that are beyond my control.  Worse than that, I have been trying to live up to the expectations of others.  I have even gone so far as to actively seek approval for the decisions that I make.

Happiness has not been attainable for me because I have been chasing someone else’s dreams.  The cut throat working world is not for me.  My husband and I have even talked about the possibility of me becoming a stay at home fur mom.  I would love to start my own animal rescue, The Duchess of Spots (named after my and my husband’s first dogs).  My focus would be to rescue differently-abled and special needs animals.

I also want to continue to write books about the animals that I have adopted.  Telling their stories and promoting adoption is something that I am very passionate about.  I want to be a voice for the voiceless.  And I would love to devote more time to volunteering both as a certified therapy dog handler and as a humane educator for the APA of Missouri.

We are not made to be perfect.  We are made to be perfectly imperfect.  Being an individual is what life is all about.  We should chase our own dreams and follow the path that feels right for us.  While I know that my parents may not always approve of my choices, I do know that they love me more than anything in the world, flaws and all.

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Vanishing Virgins

When I was in high school, it seemed that all of the “for teen” movies that came out dealt, to some degree, with the issue of virginity.  In many rom-coms, it was a whispered word that somehow meant you were “unloved” or “unwanted.”  I never understood this concept.

I was blessed enough to be raised by wonderful parents with outstanding morals and high expectations for me.  My blessings doubled when I was confirmed as a full-fledged member of the same church in which my father was confirmed in, my parents were married in and I was baptized in.  There, my morals and beliefs were further strengthened.  And I was never ashamed to be a virgin…EVER!

In fact, I was quite proud.  I love knowing that I truly saved myself for my husband.  And he saved himself for me as well.  I believe that this deepens that bond that we share.  We meant every word that we said in the church on our wedding day.  For better or for worse, my husband is the one (and the only one) for me.

Was the virginal road the easiest one to take?  Not necessarily.  I had my share of boyfriends that tried to push for us to “consummate” our relationship.  And it hurt every time I realized that our relationship had boiled down to a physical act.  All the time that I had spent “being in love” with the person was just a waiting game for him to see if he could “get some.”  Many of the girls that I knew in high school would have given in.  I can remember one girl in particularly that did in the back of a pick-up truck.  Wow, talk about romantic.

This is not what I had envisioned for my first time.  But, sadly, this is how many of the girls lost their virginity.  They swore that they were going to marry their high school boyfriend.  Can I tell you how many actually did?  One.  That’s right.  One.

Whenever one of my boyfriends pushed for sex, I told them to drop it.  If they didn’t, it was curb time for them.  I have always respected myself and my body.  I think that a lot of girls have lost that self- respect.  Many have unhealthy body image issues due to what is shown in the media.  And Miley Cyrus is certainly no help in the “protect your gift” category.  Hollywood portrays sex as something that you have to have to survive.  MTV shows that if you are a “man,” you are sleeping with at least ten random women whose names you cannot even remember.  Heaven forbid you are a woman that wants to wait until marriage.  You should be scantily clad, giving it out like candy to anyone that is interested.

Thankfully, I never believed that my virginity was worth losing.  It was worth giving to the ONE man that I knew I would be with for the rest of my life.  And I will never understand the “sex like a man” concept.  So, you sleep around with tons of different guys.  Why?  You are obviously trying to fill a void from a deeper, unresolved issue.

“Don’t you want to have fun?”  I heard that line a lot.  Isn’t that the same line that people use to try to get you to use drugs and steal and all of those other illegal acts?  Waking up the next morning being filled with regret is not my idea of “fun.”  Having boys begin to spread rumors about you and your “performance” does not sound like much fun either.  But, these girls never thought about that.  Every day, boys were sharing their panty exploits during P.E., at lunch, etc.  I was thrilled to not be the subject of any of them.

Then, there were the girls that were not so “lucky” and ended up getting pregnant.  A few actually decided to have the baby, a very brave choice while in high school.  However, the more “popular” choice was to have an abortion.  These girls thought nothing of going to the clinic several times a month!  Do they not realize that every time they have an abortion, they are greatly reducing the likelihood that they will be able to have a baby when they are actually ready?  Having to make such a gut-wrenching life decision would not be something I would label as “fun.”

And here is something that I think about:  Would you really want that many people to have seen you naked?  What if you bumped into one of the people that you slept with in high school on the street?  Wouldn’t you feel extremely uncomfortable knowing that he/she had seen your…everything?  And how would you introduce that person to your spouse?  “Oh, this is Bob.  We used to sleep together back in the day.  No big deal!”

Keeping my virginity until marriage is one of the best decisions that I have ever made.  When I met my husband, I didn’t have to worry about any children from “baby daddies” or ex-lovers giving him a report on what I’m like in the bedroom.  We never had to have that uncomfortable conversation about how many people we had “been with,” like on the movie “Just Married.”  And with him being a virgin as well, we could focus on what was really important, our love.

So, if you are a virgin, hold your head high!  You are a person who respects yourself and is not willing to compromise your morals.

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BarkWorld Expo 2016

My suitcase had been packed for two weeks.  I meticulously planned each outfit down to what jewelry I would be wearing.  Now the day that I had circled on my calendar had finally arrived.

 

As we began our eight hour car drive to Atlanta, Georgia, I started to imagine what BarkWorld would be like.  Would there be dogs as far as the eye can see?  Would I actually be able to hobnob with celebrities?

 

We checked into our hotel and decided to grab some lunch.  Afterwords, we headed to the Loews Hotel to get registered for BarkWorld.  We received our badges and an epic swag bag.

My official BarkWorld badge!

Check out all of the amazing items in our swag bags!
The first event to be held was Bark in the City.  We were able to dine out on the terrace of the Loews Hotel with other expansion pass holders and their pooches.

I was so excited to see my favorite blogging dog, Preston!

I melted when I met Max!  Look at that underbite!

Meet Echo!  This adorable husky was a perfect gentleman.

Mango is a certified therapy dog with TDI!

On Thursday, we started bright and early with a tour of the CNN building.  Having majored in Mass Communications-Journalism, I loved every minute!

 Live from CNN, it’s Lauren!

 

 

This is an actual set from inside a studio at CNN.

After lunch, we headed back to the Loews Hotel for BarkBites, a speed-dating session for brands and influencers.  It was fast-paced, but we met some amazing people and learned about some truly philanthropic companies.  Shorty Rossi then took the stage with his amazing Pitbull, Francis!

 

 Shorty and Francis were awesome!

 

Bark’s Nite Out was a fun dining event where we got to meet even more fabulous pet influencers and, of course, more dogs!

 Cocoa the Chihuahua could not be any more adorable in that tutu!

 

 This pooch was rescued from Sochi!  He has an issue with one of his back legs, but you would never know it!

 

 

 It’s Instagram sensation Leona the Lion!

 

 Check out Louie rocking that sweater!

 

I always love meeting wheelchair doxies!

Friday was a marathon of keynote speakers.  It was exhausting, but I learned so much!

I was beyond honored to do a book swap with Seth Casteel!

Forget posing with cats!  Travis DesLauier posed with a copy of Priceless Penny!

Aly from Why Does My Dog is a fantastic speaker and an awesome person!

Meeting Deirdre from Pinups for Pitbulls was amazing!  Her passion for Pitbulls is contagious and she is an amazing speaker!

We then took a break to support Tomlyn Products.  They are going to send a case of their product to dogs serving in the armed forces for every photo they are tagged in.
After dinner, we were treated to a private screening of the ASPCA’s Second Chance Dogs!  I only cried at the end.

On Saturday, we listened to more fabulous keynote speakers.  They were hilarious as well as informative.

I was beyond excited to meet Brian Fanzo!  He even flashed the signature peace sign in honor of Priceless Penny!

Meeting Nala cat’s parents was amazing!

I loved listening to presenters Bryan Kramer and Daniel Lemin.

Hamming it up with Shorty and Francis.

I am proud to be a Rescue Hero and support Halo Pets!

April and Binky are from Happy Tabby Cat Cafe right in Atlanta!
I was sad to see the conference end.  I was blessed to make so many new friends who also have a passion for rescuing animals.  All of the celebrities that I met were so friendly and down to earth.  We will definitely be back next year!

This is exactly how I felt at the end of BarkWorld!

 

 

 

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Priceless Penny Book Signing

Penny and I were honored to attend a book signing event for Priceless Penny hosted by the fabulous staff at The Bookworm book store in Carbondale, Illinois!  It may have been raining that day, but nothing could keep true Penny fans away!  Check out photos from the event below.

 Check out the awesome sign on the door of The Bookworm!

 

 

Penny took some time to relax after pawtographing.

 

 

Penny and I were so excited to be at The Bookworm!

 

 

 Penny and I love meeting our readers!

 

Signing books is so much fun!

 

 Penny even made friends with the store cat, Casper!

 Penny Meets Casper

It was love at first sniff!

 

We loved the fantastic table sign that the staff at The Bookworm made for us!

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