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Snow Returns to Sochi

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Over the last few days, the combo of rain and fog has made for more tough conditions for the athletes. These moody photos aren’t the typical shots you see from a Winter Paralympic Games! (Another big thanks to Joe Kusumoto for sharing the images.)

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But today, Sochi finally got some snow.

According to alpine skier Stephanie Jallen, the course was shaping up: “We suddenly went from spring back to winter. It made it tough that we couldn’t warm up in those conditions, but luckily the race track was pretty good. Especially the second run, the track was amazing.”

Laurie Stephens took bronze in the slalom today, adding to her bronze medals in downhill and super-G earlier in the week. This makes her a 7-time medalist, though it’s her first in slalom.

Fierce and focused on the course, her intensity transforms into a zen-like calm post-race: “Every day is different and all of the conditions are different, you never know what’s going to happen.”

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Laurie Stephens extends medal streak with slalom bronze

 

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Stephanie Jallen gets a fist bump from USA coach Ray Watkins

 

In overall medal count, Russia is dominating, with 47 total (16 gold!) Ukraine follows with 14 medals (3 gold.) The U.S. and Canada rank next with 8 medals each. While Canada has already won 2 gold, Team USA is still in search of its first gold medal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Breaking Barriers in Sochi

140307jk-openingceremony-001At the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony today, “breaking the ice” was an apt theme for breaking down barriers and breaking down stereotypes — not only for athletes competing in the Paralympics, but for people around the world.

I don’t want to cloud the competition and the focus on the athletes with political posturing, but I’d be remiss not to say that I  hope this “breaking the ice” metaphor can also extend to the situation with Ukraine. According to my husband, who was at the Ceremony, one of the most moving moments was “hearing the place go nuts for the solo Ukrainian athlete.” Even for those of us who were watching on TV, we felt that energy too.

And as my friend — and unofficial, Facebook-fan-favorite, Olympic & Paralympic commentator — John Carideo posted yesterday, “I think [the Ukrainian athletes] coming into the stadium, under their own flag would be the most powerful unifying message that could be sent.” Agreed. Let’s hope that’s a small step towards peace.

Following are some images from Joe Kusumoto that capture the power and grace of the Opening Ceremony — just a teaser for the power and grace that will follow from the 587 athletes competing on the snow and ice over the next nine days.140307jk-openingceremony-002

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I’ll leave you today with an excerpt from IPC President Sir Philip Craven’s Opening Ceremony speech:

Thirty-four years ago when the old Soviet Union declined the opportunity to stage the 1980 Paralympic Games in Moscow, the prospect of Russia staging its first Paralympic Games was nothing but a dream. But dreams do come true, and since winning the Games seven years ago, this part of Russia has undergone a monumental transformation. However, the biggest transformation for this country is still yet to come. In the same way that the city of Sochi has built a barrier free environment for athletes and officials to enjoy, I call upon all those who experience these Games to have barrier free minds, too.

And to the athletes, he said:

You have here superb sporting venues to express your amazing talents and live up to the Paralympic values of determination and courage, inspiration and equality. Together you are the catalysts for change. United as one, you have the ability to change perceptions and alter attitudes like no other. You arrive here as the best prepared athletes ever to attend a Paralympic Winter Games. You will leave as role models, heroes, pioneers and most of all, Proud Paralympians.

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2013 Favorite Kids Books

In honor of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day — Saturday, December 7 — let’s talk kids books! These days, with a 3 1/2 year old who loves reading as much as I do, I’m enamored by children’s books as much as I am my own fictional escapes.

I’d typically work up to my favorite, but in case you don’t read this whole blog, I want to make sure you do not miss this spectacular wordless picture book by Aaron Becker — Journey. If you buy one children’s book this holiday season, make it this one!

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This illustration recently graced the cover of the New York Times Book Review. The author sells signed giclee prints from his web site, which are worth checking out!

What first hooked me on this book was the book trailer (watch it here.) Named one of the Notable Children’s Books for 2013 by The New York Times, and recently dubbed “a wordless masterpiece” that is “both timely and timeless” (The Huffington Post) Journey is the story of a lonely girl who uses her red marker to outline a magical door opening to adventure. She draws a boat, a hot air balloon and a magic carpet as she navigates this other world. When she visits a steam punk-esque castle, she narrowly escapes the bad guys and frees a purple caged bird who later helps her out of captivity by returning her lost marker. (Spoiler alert: the purple bird is drawn by a boy with his own marker, who she befriends both in their pretend, drawing world, as well as in “real” life.)

It’s Harold & The Purple Crayon meets Imagine a Night. It’s “The Imagination Book” (as my daughter calls it.) It’s “story breathing” (the name of the author’s website and Twitter handle) at its finest. While probably most appropriate for the 2-6 year old set, this would be a joy at any age; I was even thinking it would make a unique gift for a graduate (think Oh The Places You’ll Go) … or even a wedding gift for a couple, as the boy and girl find, save and enjoy each other through a shared world  they’ve created.

Clearly I’m obsessed with Journey, but yes, there are other books in the sea, and several other picks worth sharing:

When it Snows, Richard Collingridge — reminiscent of The Polar Express, the classic illustrations are like an “ethereal Norman Rockwell” (as my husband said) that match a moody, cozy story perfect for snowy winter days. After wondrous adventures with bigger-than-life snowmen and rides on polar bears, the story finishes with:24732-img4

“I see thousands of elves…and other magical creatures…and I can go there every day…because my favorite book takes me there.”

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Peter Brown — I love the book description: “Are you bored with being so proper? Do you want to have more fun? Mr. Tiger knows exactly how you feel. So he decides to go wild.”

Me… Jane, Patrick McDonnell — a story of the young Jane Goodall and her toy chimpanzee. (I bought this a few months ago and wrapped it up for Christmas. Not sure who will be more excited to open it – me or the little nugget!)

From "Me... Jane"

From “Me… Jane”

The Day the Crayons Quit, Drew Daywalt, Oliver Jeffers — a box of crayons goes on strike. This fun book teaches us that crayons have feelings too — perfect for toddlers who are learning their own emotions and how to express feelings.

This Moose Belongs to Me, Oliver Jeffers — OK, this was from 2012, but I love how quirky it is, so I couldn’t resist including it here. That moose you think is your pet…? That you call Marcel…? Well, that lady over there who feeds it apples (don’t do this at home, kids!) calls him Rodrigo… and she thinks he’s her pet ( : Great illustrations, funny, and it teaches us to respect what is wild.

If You Want to See a Whale, Julie Fogliano – I’m ending with a book that is equally beautiful and timeless as Journey. Fogliano (author of And Then It’s Spring — another favorite!) has done it again with poetic words that match simple yet inspiring illustrations. We bought this one at an indie bookstore in Gloucester, Mass. after whale watching this summer (where yes, we actually saw whales!) We’d read this almost every night before bed, then after turning the lights, we’d take turns coming up with our own endings to the ‘If you want to watch a whale…’ sentence. This is one of those books that is a supreme catalyst for imagination, and one I’d highly recommend, especially for all you east coasters.

From "If You Want to See a Whale"

From “If You Want to See a Whale”

Stay tuned later this month for my must-have reccomendations when building a library for your kiddo.

And, if you’ve made it this far, then you’re definitely a book lover — for yourself and your kids — so please excuse a brief public service announcement: as you consider your purchasing options, please think about supporting your local independent bookstores (and toy stores…and libraries… ) While you may be able to get it cheaper online, those extra few dollars can go a long way in preserving the cozy, inspiring, community hubs that our indie shops offer. I simply cannot imagine a world without indie bookstores… can you?

A big thanks to the below stores for nurturing my daughter’s love of reading!

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2013 Favorite Reads

It’s been a couple of years since I posted an end of year book list. But lately, I’ve found so much contentment in good reads, it’s time to share a few recommendations again.

This list isn’t in any particular order, nor are the books necessarily published in ’13. With more limited time these days, it’s harder to stay on top of all the new ones; I’m constantly catching up! I also realize in writing this that I’ve read so little nonfiction this year… so all my picks are fiction. Here are my favorites:9780770437855_custom-0fec8d6bec6f0261063ff3be14ce66895270b9a5-s6-c30

The Dinner, Herman Koch — edgy, sharp, often disturbing… this is a unique novel that I didn’t really appreciate until after I was finished. Publishers dubbed it as a European Gone Girl, but I actually think it’s more appropriate to liken it to Defending Jacob, as one Goodreads reviewer (“Noeleen”) pointed out. (Just saw that this is being made into a movie to be directed by Cate Blanchett.)

Three Stages of Amazement, Carol Edgarian – I rarely disagree with recommendations from RJ Julia owner Roxanne and once again, she doesn’t disappoint. In her review, she points to a comment on the back of the book: “many love stories end in marriage, rare is the story that begins with one.” I picked this up3StagesPBCover a few years back and finally got around to reading it this year — it’s modern, relevant and feels so real. I loved everything about it, including this quote: “To a man, talk is work; to a woman, it’s reward.” (If you like this, also try Let the Great World Spin and Rules of Civility… two of my other all-time favorites..)

Wool, Hugh Howey – dystopic fiction doesn’t usually make my list, but I’ll make an exception here because Hugh’s back story is equally intriguing as the book. In March, he explained his path to a huge publishing deal in an article for IndieReader, which endeared me to him as an author. While I won’t necessarily read everything he writes, I’m a huge fan of his humility and authenticity as an author.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman — once again, not my usual fare, but after a few recommendati9780062255655_custom-edf574a766e8d0912ecde8211555ca96c266ae1d-s6-c30ons from simpatico readers, I had to give it a shot. I went into this with only a minimal impression of Gaiman (author of Coraline) but now I want more. He’s a creative genius who tests the boundaries of imagination, and I want to explore his other books, both those for adults and kids.

The Light between Oceans, M. L. Stedman — for me, “light” reading doesn’t mean mindless, light subject matter; it means unobtrusive, decent writing that pushes along a compelling story. The Light between Oceans falls into that category: the writing didn’t blow me away, but the story kept my attention and I enjoyed reading it.

Where’d You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple — smart, sassy and whacky… this book was a winner. I think it was over-hyped for a lot of people, but for me, it was a breath of fresh air to find a book that was both well written and funny.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, Anthony Marra — I wish I had jotted down the character names from the start, 9780770436407_custom-77ecfa8847f465932cc1ea4b3ea0f626c0c7a23d-s6-c30because I’d occasionally lose track of who was who ( I blame myself and late night reading…  not the author.) This was a dense read (Chechnya mid-90s to 2004) but it was really well done and the writing was sharp. With all the layers to the plot, I think this would make a good book club read… the kind of story you need to talk about afterwards.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green — when recently asked by a friend what I thought about The Fault in Our Stars, I said I “appreciated” it (vs. “loved” it, the reaction of so many other readers.) Maybe it was the topic (teenagers with cancer) that was just too hard for me… but I do love the author (his wit and humanity shine through his writing) so I would recommend the book with unwavering enthusiasm.

As always, would love to hear what you’re reading and loving! And… stay tuned for my favorite children’s books, which I’ll post next week — after I present at The Next Page’s ‘Best of the Best 2013

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Q&A on Skedaddle

I’ve been so pleased with the response to my “No Pink” blog post that ran on the Women’s Adventure Magazine site.  Many women really seemed to respond to this paragraph:

“Mirroring my former life is not a realistic expectation. Nor, quite frankly, is it something that’s even a priority anymore. It’s not about not being able to. I simply don’t want to. There are other things I’d rather do, most of which involve my daughter.”

Lia Keller was one of those women who wrote me after my article appeared. She runs the Skedaddle blog (Activities, Giveaways and Reviews To Help Your Child Get Outside Rain, Sun or Snow) out of Alaska, and asked me to answer a few questions about getting outside with a kiddo.  Below’s a link to the Q&A she posted on the site:

Wild Child Tara Kusumoto

What fun to connect with all the other moms out there, trying to figure out how to navigate this mommyhood adventure!

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Facebook friends offer book suggestions

When I asked for a favorite recent read, dozens of people chimed in… gotta love the Facebook universe for conversations like this! So that we don’t lose everyone’s recommendations, figured it would be worth collecting here.

Getting multiple votes were The Help, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, Sarah’s Key and Born to Run.

And the mamas spoke too: The Three Martini Play Date an Sippy Cups are Not for Chardonnay.

Of the suggestions, many are on my own personal favorites list: Little Bee (here’s a review I wrote on it awhile back for Women’s Adventure Magazine), Let the Great World Spin, Glass Castle, The Alchemist.

The full list:

  • The Ice Margin
  • Art of Racing in the Rain
  • What is the What
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
  • Sacred Games
  • City of Thieves
  • Cutting for Stone
  • The Space Between Us
  • Mutant Message Down Under
  • Clash of the Eagles
  • Passion on the Vine
  • Speaking of Faith (essays)
  • The Blue Sweater
  • The Acumen Fund
  • To the Wedding
  • Blindness
  • The Hour of the Star
  • Ill Fares the Land
  • To the End of the Land
  • The Life of Pi

It’s almost time to do my annual “Top 10″ list… Let the Great World Spin will definitely be on it. Half Broke Horses, A Widow for One Year and American Wife will also likely find a spot.

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Quote to Live By

I know I’ve been reading too much light fare when it’s been months since I’ve stopped on a sentence, re-read it and written down the quote in my “reading journal.” Finally, Curtis Sittenfeld made me stop and think – and appreciate – while I was reading The Man of My Dreams.

She writes:

“Perhaps this is how you know you are doing the thing you’re intended to: No matter how slow or slight your progress, you never feel that it’s a waste of time.”

Whether you’re talking about motherhood, a career, or relationships, these are certainly words to live by.

Of her three books, American Wife was my favorite, followed by Prep, then Man of My Dreams. I highly recommend Sittenfeld for her honest characters, her wit and humor, and her tight prose.  Can’t wait for the next novel!

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Let the Paralympic Games Begin

The Olympics have wrapped up, but the Games are far from over in Vancouver and Whistler. This Saturday, March 13, the Winter Paralympic Games begin, with more than 600 athletes from 40 countries competing for gold.

The Paralympics – often mistakenly called the Para-Olympics – are for elite athletes with physical disabilities.

Joe Kusumoto Photography (http://kusumotophoto.blogspot.com/)

An alpine skier who’s visually impaired relies on her guide as her “sight” to stay on course. A soldier who lost both of his legs in Iraq races on prosthetic legs in his first Paralympic competition. A Nordic athlete swaps her wheelchair for a sit-ski for the 10 kilometer classic cross country race.

Along with visually impaired (VI), amputee and spinal injuries, athlete disability categories include Cerebral Palsy, which affects movement, reflexes and posture, as well as “les autres,” encompassing physical disabilities such as Dwarfism and Multiple Sclerosis.

Held at the same competition venues as the Olympics, the Paralympic Winter Games feature five sports: alpine skiing (downhill, Super-G, Super Combined, Giant Slalom and Slalom), cross country skiing, biathlon, sled hockey (also known as ice sledge hockey), and wheelchair curling. Both alpine and Nordic are further separated into “standing,” “sitting” and “visually impaired” categories to fairly match athletes against like abilities.

“Every day, every year, every Games, we continue to break thresholds and increase in excellence,” said Charlie Huebner, Chief of Paralympics, U.S. Olympic Committee. “Competitors are getting stronger, sports are developing and performances are phenomenal.”

13 women and 37 men will represent Team USA in 2010, and while they certainly have podium potential, Huebner says that “having the team represent our country and perform at the best of their abilities is what success will be.”

Building Community, Developing Athletes

For the U.S. Paralympics, establishing community-level resources for kids with physical disabilities goes hand in hand with developing a pipeline of future Paralympians. The organization’s Paralympic Sport Clubs create a healthier population of kids with physical disabilities by offering them the chance to participate in daily activity and sport.

“With physical activity comes engagement,” says Huebner, “and we see every day how being integrated as part of the peer process has positive social impact on those individuals.”

Continued emphasis on developing programs around the country will help the organization grow from 114 clubs today to their goal of 250 by 2012. And with that growth, chances are we’ll see a natural pipeline of elite athletes who may one day aspire to Paralympic dreams.

Where to Watch

Both in the U.S. and around the world, Huebner observes that the Paralympic movement is making more of an impact, leading to further integration of programming with the Olympics. This year, for example, the Olympic men’s and women’s hockey coaches and the Paralympic sled hockey coaches were named at the same time.

While U.S. broadcast of the Paralympics does not yet match that of the Olympics, coverage continues to improve thanks to increased interest from the American public, and increased support from individual and corporate sponsors.

This year, you can catch Opening Ceremonies and recaps on NBC Sports and Universal Sports:

  • NBC Sports Opening Ceremony highlights – Saturday, March 13, 1:00-2:00 p.m. ET
  • NBC Sports Paralympics recap – Saturday, April 10, 3:00-5:00 p.m. ET
  • Universal Sports nightly two hour program – Monday, March 15–Tuesday March 23, 7:00 p.m. ET (re-air at 11:00 p.m. ET)
  • U.S. Paralympic Team – daily video and news highlights
  • Paralympic Sport TV – live daily coverage online

Additional resources:

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Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life

In the late 1960s and 70s, the male-dominated climbing establishment shunned Arlene Blum. During a time when women weren’t welcome because they couldn’t carry heavy loads or handle the effects of high altitude, she was ostracized for her sex alone. Hard to believe, that was less than 50 years ago.

Blum’s Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life tells her story of lost opportunities – both in the mountaineering world and her own upbringing – that led to accomplishment.

In many ways, she’s the “every woman,” describing trouble with relationships, how to balance a desire for adventure with career and financial needs, and family struggles that created both insecurity and drive.

On the other hand, Blum stands alone in her experiences. She received her PhD in chemistry, conducted protein folding studies that contributed to breakthroughs in AIDS research, and investigated flame retardants in kids’ sleepwear, helping to ban the use of such carcinogens. Alongside her academic feats, she also broke trail for female mountaineers: she led the first women’s climbing team on Denali (“The Great One”), was the first American woman to attempt Everest and set a world altitude record for American women on Annapurna I.

What sets this book apart from other mountaineering memoirs is Blum’s humility.

Read the rest of the review at Women’s Adventure Magazine.

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The start of my writing career?

A friend on Facebook pulled up this old ‘book’ from grade school. While it was the proper use of a semicolon, boy was I lacking storytelling coherence!

Maybe this was the true start of my writing career….

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