“Peeking” Duck

by Marilynn Halas on January 30th, 2012

            Happy Chinese New Year!  In our house, we have celebrated the Year of the Dragon like never before.  Most of my kids are studying Mandarin at school and so there was great excitement at school and at home.  School wide celebrations included dancing dragons and songs and even better, our favorite Chinese food for dinner.  We had eggrolls and lo mien and all kinds of chicken, but the duck came later and it kind of scared all of us.  After a delicious meal and all the oranges we could eat for dessert it was time for bed.  Everyone settled in and I actually thought I would get some work done.  How naïve.

About 11:30 I heard it for the first time and it was shocking to say the least.  There was an ominously quacking sound coming from upstairs.  I ran to check on my kids and there was my little guy sitting up in bed, quacking like a duck and barking like a seal.  Normally we take pride in our repertoire of animal noises from neighing horses to mooing cows, but this was different.  There was no twinkle in his eyes nor smile on his face, only that terrible sound every time he coughed.

I’ve seen a lot and heard a lot as a mom, but this was my first experience with croup.  We spent most of the rest of the night enjoying the humidifier and sipping water, but the scary sound went on.  At one point, I could see abject fear in his eyes as he quacked again and I realized that a distraction was in order.   It was the middle of the night and I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s not typically the time I feel most creative.  Still, you know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention, so I went for it.

Right in the middle of a new cough I opened my eyes wide and pointed to my little one’s mouth.  “I don’t believe it!”  I stammered.  “Now I know why you sound like a duck.  You must have swallowed a duck!  I even think I see him peeking out when you cough!”  In a flash he was out of bed and looking in the mirror.  Knowing that I love to joke around, the twinkle in his eyes came back when he assured me that he could see it too.  Not one to be outdone I decided to up the antie, after all, it’s not like we were getting any sleep anyway.  I reached into his down pillow and extracted a small feather.

“Look at this!  You even coughed up a feather!”   Now he knew I was kidding for sure and he delighted in telling me all about it.  The more he talked, the more the fear ran away from his eyes and within about fifteen minutes, he was sound asleep.  I, on the other hand, not so much.

As I lay there listening to him breathe, I thought again about the miracle of storytelling.  Stories can be a distraction, a reward and a means of self-expression all at the same time.  They teach us where we have been and inspire where we might go, but even better, they join us in the current moment to lift us up.  Telling a story together builds your family team and turns a bad night into a great memory.  As far as I can tell, stories are the best way to keep your face to the sun and make sure the shadows fall behind.



What A View

by Marilynn Halas on January 13th, 2012

            Last week I kept a promise that I made last March.   Growing up in the shadow of Manhattan, I somehow thought that my kids were as done with the New York tourist scene as I was.  As if they had somehow inherited my endless visits with Irish relatives on my mother’s professional tour of the Big Apple.  She always began with the Circle Line and then, the Empire State Building, a Broadway show and the grand finale, dinner at Windows on the World.  As a kid I must have waited in line to see New York’s attractions for hours and as a teenager, I relished the fact that I was no longer required to tag along.  The thing is, experiences aren’t hereditary and to my kids here in Connecticut, going in to the city is a big treat.  Unlike me, they have never had to make the commute in sub-zero weather or splash around a street corner trying to hail a cab during a spring rain.  For them, there is nothing but magic and wonder and amazing food.

I think one of the best parts of being a mom is getting to see things through the eyes of our children.   Last week, I got to fall in love with New York all over again because I made a promise to my child.  He was desperate to go to the top of the Empire State Building.  He learned about it in school and saw it every time we crossed the George Washington Bridge on the way home.  He asked to go and I agreed, thinking that we would go someday.   Truth be told, I was hoping we could wait until he was older or until we had more free time.  (Free time, funny right?  I don’t know any family with actual free time.)

He asked a few times before I said the fateful words, “I Promise.”  Once those words were uttered I knew the dye was cast.   We planned to go during a school break that rained for ten days.  We rescheduled to a summer day when an unexpected fog blanketed the city.   We planned to do it on a crisp fall weekend and then discovered how busy high school kids are on the weekends.  It took us four tries, but we finally did it.  It was about 50 degrees and we practically had the place to ourselves at eight pm.

After the Holiday rush is blissfully peaceful and the whole family was able to go right up with practically no wait at all.  The people who work there were so welcoming and knowledgeable that we felt right at home.  After about fifteen minutes we emerged on the observation deck and saw the sparkling jewel that is New York City twinkling in the moonlight.  When they saw the George Washington Bridge they actually jumped up and down with excitement.  In all my visits, I never had as much fun as I did that night watching my kids get that perspective of the city for the first time.  They have been driven all over New York and seen a lot, but to see it all at once, from so magnificent a perch was something I know they will never forget.

They learned a great deal about the men who sacrificed and died to build it and they learned about the hope it gave New York as our nation emerged from the Great Depression.  They also discovered a whole new world that exists for all of us if we can learn to look at things from a different angle.  That night, I got a new perspective too.  My kids have a right to experience this world for themselves and I get the privilege of discovering how much better it is when I see it through their excited eyes.

I’ll take them on the Circle Line this summer and they will continue to see as many Broadway shows as are made for children.  I can’t share Windows on the World with them because it was stolen from all of us on 9-11, but what can never be taken is our hope.  The Empire State Building was a beacon of hope during the Great Depression and it still is today.  It reminded me how much I love the city I grew up exploring and it gave me the joy of seeing my kids horizons broaden literally, right before my eyes.  Seeing that kind of joy is what hope is all about.  I took them to the Empire State Building because I made a promise.  I thought it was just for their benefit, I discovered it was more than just about a great view.  I learned about history, hope and how we can be renewed when we share something so life affirming with our kids.

We think we will show our kids about the world, but sometimes, we are the ones who need to see more clearly and the children are the ones most qualified to show us.


Keep your face to the sun and enjoy the view as all shadows fall behind.




Special Gift for a Happy New Year

by Marilynn Halas on January 5th, 2012

Happy New Year to all; Merry, Happy and Whew!  We made it.  Another Holiday Season is over and more memories are made to be treasured.  As a special treat, I would like to introduce Liz Lezama, our guest blogger this week. She is a wonderful writer and we here at 4 Sunflowers feel blessed that she is on our team.


I’m a big believer in story writing as communication that is not just external, from the writer to the reader, but internal as well, from the writer’s heart to the writer’s mind.  I asked Liz to write a story for children and blog about what that process was like for her.   Her story is adorable and a New Year’s gift to us all.   Thanks Liz for your time and talent.  It is our privilege to have you as our first guest blogger.  Always keep writing and keep your face to the sun so all shadows will fall behind.


Toby the Teddy Bear

            Toby is a teddy bear. He is nice and soft and a very good companion. Toby is just like you.


Toby likes to be held, just like you do. He feels safe and warm in your arms and knows that you will never let go. How do you feel when you are being held?


Toby is afraid of the dark. It is dark and scary and very lonely. Toby likes to have a night-light, just like you do. He feels safe and not alone with a night-light. How do you feel in the dark?


Toby loves to be happy. He is always happy when he plays. Toby likes to play games, just like you. He has fun and is never sad when he plays a game. What do you like to play?


Toby loves to be loved. He feels safe and warm and happy when he is loved. Toby loves to be loved, just like you. How do you feel when someone loves you?


Toby is a teddy bear. He is brown and soft and a very good companion. Toby is just like you.


When you want to be held, Toby wants to be held.

When you are afraid of the dark, Toby is afraid of the dark.


When you want to be happy, Toby wants to be happy.


When you want to be loved, Toby wants to be loved.


You are just like Toby. You are nice and soft and a very good companion.


When you are held you feel safe and warm in someone’s arms, just like Toby.


When you are afraid of the dark, you want a night-light. You are just like Toby.


When you play you are happy, just like Toby.


When you are loved you feel safe and warm and happy. You are just like Toby.

Just like you always take care of Toby, someone will always take care of you.

Did you ever think about the logistics and mentality required for writing a children’s book? I didn’t and here I am, an intern at 4 Sunflowers Media, and beginning my first endeavor as a children’s literature author. My initial thought, when I sat to write something down, was to come up with a name for the story. I believed that with a name would come a coherent and imaginative story that would not only entertain but also send a message. Luckily enough, it came to me on the first try. Though, if I were to attempt this again, I think it would require a little more effort.

I named my story Toby the Teddy Bear. Obviously, I have a soft spot for alliteration so the Teddy Bear half of the title derived from the name I chose. The name on the other hand happened to be my boyfriend’s favorite name and it was the first thing that popped into my head.

After coming up with the title, the character was formed. I used my past experience and retraced my long lost memories of carrying around a stuffed animal. Words like soft, safe, comfort and company where the first things to come to me. I used these words as a sort of outline for my story. I wanted to make sure that the child as well as the parent felt soft, safe, comfortable and in good company when they read my story. I used my past experience of dolls and teddy bears to think of different situations in which a child would involve their teddy bears. Scenarios such as being afraid of the dark, playing games and loving the teddy bear were used as a basis for my story.

The next big step for me was ensuring that my story would be interactive. I wanted to make sure that the child was a part of the story. What better way to teach a lesson than to involve the child and teach him or her through experience? In order to create this experience I added questions at the end of Toby’s statements. In this way, the child and the parents are learning together and creating a bonding experience, which in my opinion is the way story telling should be.

The last step was ensuring the message could be found easily. For my message, I had used the experience of seeing a baby latched on tightly to his mother’s chest while I was working one day. All I could think about at the time was the vulnerability of that child and the immense trust he had for his mother. I decided to make the story for him and thus the message became one of always having someone that will love you.

When I finished writing the story I felt proud. I felt like I had accomplished something and in the process had learned the lesson of the story myself. However, I know this story is not complete. This was my first attempt at a children’s story and therefore it could definitely use some tweaking.  I want to document my journey of writing for children because I want you to understand that it is a process. Writing for children is not easy. Their minds are extremely impressionable so you always want to make sure that the lesson you are sending is powerful and clear. Through trial and error and edits and re-edits, I hope to expand my horizons as a writer–I’ll let you know how it goes.


-Liz Lezama


The 12 Treats of Christmas

by Marilynn Halas on December 25th, 2011

On the 1st day of Christmas my children gave to me,

Smiles bright enough to light our tree.

On the 2nd day of Christmas my children gave to me,

The need for 2 aspirin, and …

On the 3rd day of Christmas my children gave to me,

3 brand new errands,

On the 4th day of Christmas my children gave to me,

4 happy faces,

On the 5th day of Christmas my children gave to me,

5 great, big hugs!

On the 6th day of Christmas my children gave to me,

6 dinners roasting,

On the 7th day of Christmas my children gave to me,

7 kinds of fish,

On the 8th day of Christmas my children gave to me,

8 missing mittens,

On the 9th day of Christmas my children gave to me,

9 flavors of ice cream,

On the 10th day of Christmas my children gave to me,

10 sips of eggnog,

On the 11th day of Christmas my children gave to me,

11 gifts to open,

On the 12th day of Christmas my children gave to me,

12 hours on Amazon.

With love to all of Santa’s elves who make the magic happen.


The Holly Daze

by Marilynn Halas on December 18th, 2011

            Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines.   It’s official, we are in full holiday season and all systems are go.  Go to the store, go to the market, go to the airport; go everywhere and anywhere just go, go, go.

Exhausting isn’t it?  We work and strive and plan and cajole our way to the holiday of our dreams.  Everyone gathered around enjoying their gifts and food and most of all the magic of the season that you helped create.   It’s perfect.  Then we wake up and realize that there is an ominous looking spill under the table, our flowers are wilting and someone just sneezed over the eggnog.  Now what?

What if it was still perfect?  What if perfect meant that we embrace our imperfections?  We are human and we make mistakes and that is a big part of what makes us lovable.   It’s all a matter of perspective.  When we enlarge ours, we can make room for our fantasies, our foibles and our friends and family.

Someone may be late, someone else might make a dreadful dessert and someone will throw a temper tantrum, (that person may or may not be a toddler).   That’s okay.  Enlarge your perspective again.   Someone will squeal with delight, someone will laugh until they cry and someone will fall asleep beside the fire, (again, that person may or may not be the baby.)

In the midst of wrapping and running around, when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, but the nights seem way too long, give yourself a gift.  Replace judgment with gentleness and give yourself a break instead of ever higher expectations.  We have all heard it before, but it bears repeating.  It’s who is around the table, not what’s on it.  It’s the giving that matters, not the getting.  It’s the memories made, not the things we forgot to pick up.

Before we know it another holiday season will have come and gone.  When the dinner is finished and the gifts are no longer a surprise, one precious present will be opened again and again through the years.  The memories of being together, through the happy and the sad and the exhilarating and exhausting, we build our family community little by little and one season at a time.

No matter how the turkey, ham or beef wellington turns out, these are days to draw close to the ones we love and to show our children that the love between family and friends is bright enough to light up even the darkest time of the year.  Find joy, make celebration a priority and show love, to yourself as well as others.

This is a time to make things new, new beginnings, new life and maybe even new priorities.  There are miracles all around us, so try not to get your tinsel in a tangle.  The best gifts are not from the stores, they are from your heart.  Enjoy this blessed time and spend your energies on what will last beyond next week, the love you share for others and yourself.  It’s the only thing I know that grows bigger and bigger the more you give it away.


Happy Holidays and remember to keep your face to the sun, (or the lights,) and all shadows will fall behind.