Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Inspiring Kids To Write...

I was at a book signing a few weeks ago and a woman told me about her daughter who likes to write.

"Is she here with you?" I asked.

"Yes. She's looking around."

"Please tell her to come by and say hello. What's her name?"

"Amanda."

A few minutes later, a tentative pre-teen was hovering nearby. "You're Amanda, aren't you." I smiled so as not to freak the poor kid out. She nodded shyly. "I understand that you like to write." She nodded again. "Tell me about one of your stories."

That's all it took for her passion for writing to explode out of her. In between signing books and chatting with book buyers, Amanda and I talked about writing dialogue, creating believable characters, and the dreaded writer's block. And then it appeared, the bane of most creative people: self-doubt. "I really hope to have a book published someday," she confided in me. "But I try not to get my hopes up. It probably won't happen."

I reached for one of my promotional postcards featuring the cover of Painting The Invisible Man. "Amanda, I want you to keep this postcard right next to your computer. And every time you look at it, I want you to envision that this is your book cover instead. Okay?"

She smiled as she reached for the card. "If you believe that you can get a book published, Amanda, then you will do it. You have to believe in yourself and your talent. And if you can do that, then you will succeed."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Conversations With Dog

Several people have asked me to post Conversations With Dog, a sermon I wrote and delivered at the BUUC. Here it is, folks...enjoy! Oh, if you aren't familiar with the poem Rainbow Bridge (it is referenced at the end) I heartily suggest you read it.

Conversations With Dog
by Rita Schiano

(Sermon presented at the Brookfield Unitarian Universalist Church, Brookfield, MA March 12, 2006.)

Imagine if you could ask God any question you wanted and you could actually receive an answer?

Several years ago writer Neale Donald Walsch was very unhappy with every aspect of his life personally, professionally, and emotionally. He felt his life was a failure on all levels. Now being a writer, he did what most writers do. He started writing his thought and feelings down. He wrote letter after letter to people he felt didn’t understand him, or had victimized him in one way or another.

And then, still quite frustrated, Walsch decided to write the ultimate letter to the ultimate source, a letter to the greatest victimizer of them all—he wrote an angry letter to God.

It was a spiteful, passionate letter, full of confusions, condemnations, and many, many angry questions. He asked God,
• Why isn't my life working?
• Why can I not find happiness in my relationships with others?
• Was financial security going to elude me forever?

Finally he asked God the Big Kahuna of questions:
• What bad have I done to deserve a life of such continuing struggle?

And then, to his surprise, as he scribbled the last of his bitter questions, the pen began moving on its own. It wrote: Do you really want an answer to all these questions, or are you just venting?

Thus began Neale Donald Walsch’s now famous series of books, Conversations With God.

The renown psychologist, Thomas Szasz, wrote, “If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.” I’m a pray-er. I often talk to God. I ask all sorts of questions…and favors….but I’ve yet to get a direct response from Him.

However, there is one of God’s messengers with whom I talk with daily. And from whom I’ve learned many an answer to many a question. You see, I have conversations with my dog. You may laugh…but I’m going to let you in on something. I’m not the only person in this congregation who has Conversations with Dog.

Throughout my fifty years I’ve shared my life with seven dogs. And each one has taught me, in its own unique way, lessons that have bettered my life.

There are certain attributes that we attribute to dogs: loyalty and unconditional love are two that come to most minds.

I first heard the phrase unconditional love in Catechism class many, many years ago. God’s love is unconditional, I was taught. Now that statement fueled one of my earliest battles with my Catholic school teachers. Because I couldn’t understand, and they—the nuns and priests—couldn’t explain, how it was that God loved me unconditionally, yet was willing to condemn me to hell for missing Sunday Mass—considered, not a venial sin mind you, but a mortal sin on par with murder. Is it no wonder there are so many ex-Catholics in these pews?

A mother’s love is unconditional. However, I don’t think young children truly understand that notion until a little later in life, when they are able to comprehend that reprimands and punishment do not translate to, “My mother hates me.”

I think a child’s first understanding of unconditional love, and loyalty, comes from having a pet, specifically (and I admit to bias) from having a dog. This is by no means an original observation since untold movies, television shows, poems, books, and songs have been produced on this very theme. Lassie and My Dog Skip are two that come to mind.

Coco was my first dog, my childhood dog. He was a standard poodle, he was scrappy, and he was obsessed with legs. It didn’t matter if you were sitting or standing. If Coco spied a leg, he had to ‘have his way’ with it.

One day, an all-too-common scene between my parents erupted. I wanted, desperately, for the fighting to stop. But I was too young, and too little, to do anything about it myself.

However, earlier that week in religion class, I learned that if something is troubling you, you need only to talk to God; to ask that He intervene. “Turn the problem over to God,” Sister McCrenna said. “Place it in His hands.”

I remember I was holding Coco in my hands, hugging him to my chest as I talked to God, asking Him, respectfully, to please make my parents stop fighting. I ended my prayer by repeating over and over what I had learned in religion class: Let go, and let God. Let go, and let God. And just as the words passed my lips for the last time, Coco jumped from my arms and onto the floor. He stood a moment looking at me, as if he had transformed into my favorite cartoon character: Mighty Mouse. “Here I come to save the day!”

And with that, he tore into the kitchen, and grabbed onto my father’s leg. And not in his usual leg-hugging manner, but with his teeth. My father tried to get him off, but Coco would not let go. My father kept shaking his leg, yelling at the dog. “Let go!” But Coco would not let go until the fight was out of my father. That day I learned to put my faith in God. I let go, and let Dog.

Barbara Hale told me that she, and I quote, “always admired dogs for being rather stoic individuals, who take what comes as part of just being alive. They adapt to whatever situation life throws their way.”

Barbara would have admired Jazzy, Too!—my fifth dog. I first learned about her on July 3, 1990. I was in the Sturbridge post office and on the bulletin board next to the Wanted posters was a photocopy of a young pup. “Sweet dog needs good home.” Signed the Sturbridge Dog Officer. I still remember her timid-looking face, her terrified, eyes, that seemed to plead, “Please, please give me a home.”

The following day, the Fourth of July, I was at a cookout at the home of friends. There were a dozen or so people sitting around the yard discussing politics, as was usual when we all got together. I was enjoying a hamburger and my friend Nancy’s scrumptious baked beans, when the conversation turned to the picture of the dog in the post office. “You should adopt that dog,” Nancy said to me.

Later that afternoon when my friend, Tim, arrived his first topic of conversation was the dog at the pound. “The dog officer said it was really sweet,” he told us. “And if no one takes in the next few days he’ll have to put it down.” Tim then faced me squarely. “You know, Rita, you really should adopt that dog.”

Now I already had 1 dog and 2 cats at home, and a relatively young restaurant to tend to 16 hours a day. Another responsibility? I didn’t think so. Yet, being a believer in Divine Intervention, I decided I had to, at the very least, go and see this dog.

I left the party and drove to the pound. My arrival was greeted by the desperate barking and yelping of several dogs. I scanned cage after cage for the little black lab. And then I saw her, this filthy, muddy, scrawny little dog trembling against the wire fencing. She looked at me with those desperate, pleading eyes.

“Have you come to take me home?”

“Not really,” I answered. “I was just curious about you. You’re the talk of the town.”

“Please, take me home,” she begged. “I promise to be the best little dog in all the world.”

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t have time for another dog.”

Before she could say another word, I went back to my car, started the engine, shifted into drive…and drove about three feet.

If no one takes it in the next few days he’ll have to put it down. Tim’s words sounded in my head.

I grabbed a business card from my wallet and scribbled a note to the dog officer. I stopped by her cage. She was huddled in the farthest corner. “I’ll be back for you tomorrow,” I called to her. “And you will have a home. I promise.”

The next morning I picked her up, brought her to the vet for a check up, shots, and grooming. She was jubilant as I drove her to her new home. She thrust her head out the car window, her long ears flapped in the wind. “I love car rides!” she told me.

We entered the house. Jazzy was greeted joyfully by Fresno and the two cats. And this gentle, timid dog with the desperate, pleading eyes…transmogrified into Psycho Pup from Hell.

For the next three days and nights Jazzy would not sleep, sit, or rest in any way, shape, or form. She cried and paced back and forth, back and forth, a distance equal to the length of her cage at the pound. Even a double dose of Acepromazine couldn’t settle her down. She’d shake it off and continue pacing and crying.

At mealtime she was so crazed and I had to chain her to a hook on the wall. After five days of no rest or quiet in my once peaceful household, I began searching for a shelter that would take her, but not destroy her. I eventually found one in Upton.

“I’ll bring the dog there tomorrow,” I told the shelter owner.

But no sooner had I hung up the telephone, my decision was met with a nagging feeling in my gut. I had made a promise to her. And if I my promise was worth less because she was a dog, what, then, was my word worth to another human being? If I chose to run from a dog because the going got tough, how could a person ever trust that I would stick by him or her through thick and thin?

That night when I got home, I brought Jazzy into the guest bedroom and closed the door. It was just her and me. No cats, no dog, no one else. “I gave you my word,” I said to her. “I promised you a home. So, we’ll just have to find a way to make it work. But, I need you to help me understand what it is you need?”

That’s when I noticed she was still. For the first time in five days she was not pacing, not crying. I reached out my hand to pet her head. She pulled back and away, but did not growl or nip this time.

“Okay, Jazzy. Here’s what we’re going to do. It’ll be just you and me. For as long as it takes until you can trust me, and I can trust you.”

For the next month, I brought Jazzy into that one room with me while she ate, and again each night when it was time for sleep. It took a few nights before she’d lie down in the far corner, and a few more after that before I saw her actually sleep. Maybe it was sheer exhaustion, or maybe she felt a little safer. Whatever the reason, it was a new beginning.

The following night I sat on the floor several feet away from her. And did so each night for the next three weeks. And each night she did her part. She came a little closer until, finally, one day Jazzy closed the gap.

She inched over until she lay alongside my legs. She placed her head in my lap, and slightly splayed her back legs so I could rub her belly. And from that moment on she was true to her word, too. She became the best little dog in all the world.

That prolific sage, Anonymous, wrote: The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue.

Sometimes I was surprised my dog, Frisco, had any friends at all. She had the most to say, and not only to me, but to everyone who crossed her path. And her manner of speech was inimitable. Her favorite expression? “So, what’s your point?” Yet, despite her sassy attitude, Frisco was beloved by all who knew her.

Misty-Dawn is fond of saying she grew up with Frisco. Which is true , really, for I have known Misty since she was fourteen years old and Frisco, then, was a young pup.

Misty didn’t have a dog of her own, and Frisco didn’t have a kid of her own, and so they bonded immediately. The happiness Frisco exuded whenever Misty-Dawn was around was a joy to see.

After Jazzy joined our family and underwent her transformation from Psycho Pup From Hell to The Best Little Dog in All the World, she and Frisco found their common bond and, soon, became inseparable. And even though Jazzy still needed to be chained at mealtime, Frisco insisted on eating alongside her, as if partaking in communion.

When Jazzy died suddenly and unexpectedly, Frisco mourned the loss of her sister. For weeks on end she was inconsolable. She barely ate, laid curled in a ball in the corner, her fur began to fall out in clumps.

I called Misty-Dawn and told her Frisco needed to see her. I can still remember the shocked expression on Misty’s face at how thin and despondent Frisco had become.

“You have to start eating more, Frisco,” Misty told her. And Frisco responded, “What’s the point?”

I was planning a vacation to Florida the following week and Misty agreed to stay in my home and care for Frisco while I was gone. The day before I left, I stopped at the vet’s office. Frisco suffered from epilepsy and her meds were running low. I mentioned her despondency to Dr. Mak. “Some dogs,” he explained, “need to be part of a pack in order to thrive.”

The need to be part of a pack in order to thrive. I tried to imagine my life without those with whom I share a common bond. How very empty it would be; how despondent I would be. Extending those thoughts from the past to my life today, I see how blessed I am to have adopted this religious community, one in which I am free to question doctrine without the threat of eternal damnation.

This community, which shares my essential belief that we must discover and honor our connection to one another. This community, which understands and embraces the moral imperative of attaining a peaceful and just world community.

I need to be a part of this pack in order to thrive.

It was clear I needed to adopt another dog. I asked Dr. Mak to keep an ear attuned for me. That, ideally, I would like a female dog, around three years of age. He promised to do so.

Two days into my vacation I called home to check on Frisco. Misty was ecstatic with news. Dr. Mak had called the day before and they had a dog for me—female and three years old. He said one of the vet techs would care for her until I got back.

Immediately upon my return I went to see Dr. Mak. The vet technician, Brian, greeted me sadly. “She’s such a great dog I almost hate giving her up. But I have two dogs, three cats, and four kids at home. And by the way, Brandy gets along with all of them.”

Brian named her Brandy. “She responded to two-syllable names that ended with an ‘ee’ sound,” he explained. The moment I saw Brandy’s smiling, sweet face I knew she was the one.

Brandy entered our home and Frisco looked at her, and then looked at me. “This is Brandy, your new sister.” Frisco approached her cautiously, and the two stood face to face. They spoke in their own language to one another. I don’t know what was said, but suddenly Frisco ran and got a toy and dropped it at Brandy’s feet.

Within a week Frisco had gained weight and her fur stopped falling out. She was truly happy once again.

But something wasn’t settling with me. Brandy. The name simply did not suit this loving creature. And so, with her permission, I renamed her Saatchi—two syllables, ends in a ‘ee’ sound, and means happiness in Japanese.

Frisco died about a year and a half ago, three weeks shy of her fifteenth birthday. Telling Misty-Dawn the news nearly broke my heart.

On the anniversary of Frisco’s birth (which, by the way, is the same date Misty and Jenna selected for their wedding day) Misty and Jenna, and Michelle and I celebrated Frisco's life, and the joy she had brought to us all. We spread her ashes throughout the yard in which she loved to run. We shared our favorite memories and anecdotes of that sassy dog. We ate cake. A celebration without cake? “What’s the point?”

And now it is just Saatchi and me. She doesn’t mind being the only dog. She finds happiness and peace no matter what the situation.

If Saatchi subscribed to a system of belief, then she would be a Taoist. Lao Tzu, Taoism’s founder, wanted his philosophy to remain a natural way to live life with goodness, serenity and respect. He laid down no rigid code of behavior. He believed a person's conduct should be governed by instinct and conscience.

To cull Taoism into five precepts it would be:
• The Tao does not speak.
• The Tao does not blame.
• The Tao does not take sides.
• The Tao has no expectations.
• The Tao demands nothing of others.

My dog is a Taoist.

Taoists believe, too, that people are compassionate by nature...and left to their own devices, they will show this compassion without expecting a reward. Okay, sometimes Saatchi does look a treat. I suppose then, too, Saatchi could subscribe to Hedonism.
Eat. Nap. Drink. Nap. Be Merry. Nap. For tomorrow we die. Nap.

It’s said that one year in our life is equal to seven years for a dog. Absolutely. I’ve no doubt that’s true. We go to sleep, we wake up, and it’s the next day. A dog naps several times a day. Each time it wakes up, “Poof!’ it’s another day.

How many people here have a dog? Then you know what I mean. I step out of the house, walk down the driveway, collect the mail, walk back up the driveway, reenter the house, and my dog is so excited to me see! And it’s no wonder---to her I’ve just been gone half the day!

Imagine living your life so in the moment!

Imagine living your life with that amount of freshness!

Barbara Hale thinks, and I quote, “Dogs accept their natural life better and smarter than human beings. They don’t shun other dogs that are mutts when they themselves are purebreds. They don’t nip, tuck and dye like humans – a little white around the muzzle never bothers them.” And she observed, “When they get old and begin to feel the effects of aging, they slow down. And when it is time for them to die, they allow their people to help them pass comfortably.”

Imagine leaving your life so peacefully.

"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went," wrote Will Rogers.

I hope there is a Rainbow Bridge…and when my time on this earth is through, Coco and Little Bear and Jazzy, Frisco, Jazzy, Too!, Jesse, and Saatchi—and the other dogs yet to enter my life—come running across that green meadow to welcome me home. And together we will cross the Rainbow Bridge. That’s when I will see the face of God. After all, Dog is God spelled backwards.

— Update 11/7/07: My beloved Saatchi crossed the Rainbow Bridge on July 26, 2007...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

ADHD and the Workplace

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are terms familiar to most and are usually ascribed to children. Yet, many adults, particularly those in their late 30s and older, may suffer from one of these disorders and not even know it. ADD and ADHD were not widely studied, discussed, debated, and diagnosed until the 1990s, long after many adults were out of the school system.

For adults with ADHD, the workplace can be stressful and challenging. “If these challenges are not recognized and coping strategies not developed, people with ADHD may find themselves jumping from job to job, being terminated, and becoming increasingly frustrated and unhappy” wrote psychologist Janet Frank.

In the workplace, ADHD adults may encounter “ADHD traps” such as distractibility, impulsivity, boredom, time management and organization problems, procrastination, difficulty with long-term projects, and interpersonal difficulties.

Dr. Edward Hallowell, founder of The Hallowell Center, writes that “external structure” is key. He suggests using lists, color-coding reminders, and notes to self. “Prioritize. Avoid procrastination. When things get busy, the adult ADHD person loses perspective. . . . Take a deep breath. Put first things first. Procrastination is one of the hallmarks of adult ADHD.”

Dr. Hallowell writes a blog where he offers suggestions, tips, and techniques for understanding and dealing with ADD and ADHD. Most of all, he wants people to remember that “treatment of adult ADHD begins with hope.”

Adults with ADD and ADHD may have legal protections under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 which prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in higher education and the workplace. Some state laws may go further than these federal laws in prohibiting discrimination. Check with your state government or an attorney who practices in your jurisdiction to determine your rights under state law and federal laws.

(Originally posted to KidsTerrain.com)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Workplace Bullying: The Silent Epidemic

Workplace bullying refers to persistent aggressive or unreasonable actions of a person (or group of people) towards an employee (or group of employees). Bullying behavior is that which intimidates, degrades, offends, or humiliates a worker. The behavior may be inflicted verbally, nonverbally, psychologically, or physically.

The Workplace Bullying Institute* just released its Labor Day 2008 Survey “How Employers & Co-Workers Respond to Workplace Bullying.”

The WBI study surveyed two separate 400-person respondent groups. The participants visited the WBI web site and completed one or both of the surveys, asking about either their employers’ responses to bullying, or asking what co-workers did.

The question posed: At work, have you experienced any or all of the following types of repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation or humiliation?

I found the results to be astounding.

Question: When the employer was told about the bullying, what did the employer do?

* 1.7% - conducted fair investigation and protected target from further bullying with negative consequences for the bully
* 6.2% - conducted fair investigation with negative consequences for the bully but no safety for the target
* 8.7% - inadequate/unfair investigation; no consequences for bully or target
* 31% - inadequate/unfair investigation; no consequences for bully but target was retaliated against
* 12.8% - employer did nothing, ignored the complaint; no consequences for bully or target
* 15.7%- employer did nothing; target was retaliated against for reporting the bullying but kept job
* 24% - employer did nothing; target was retaliated against and eventually lost job

Bullied workers reported that a majority of employers (53%) did nothing to stop the mistreatment when reported and many (in 71% of cases) retaliated against the person who dared to report it.

In 40% of cases, targets considered the employer’s “investigation” to be inadequate or unfair with less than 2% of investigations described as fair and safe for the bullied person. Filing complaints led to retaliation by employers of bullied targets leading to lost jobs (24%). Alleged bullies were punished in only 6.2% of cases; bullying is done with impunity.

When asked: Bully’s rank relative to the targeted person:
7.6% Bully ranked lower than the targeted individual
18.7% Bully was a co-worker, colleague, a peer of the targeted individual
73.6% Bully ranked above the target by one or more levels in the organization

Additional facts from the Employers’ Response study:

* 95% of respondents were self-described targets of bullying (past or current)
* 59% of the bullies were women; 80% of targets were women
* 74% Bully enlisted others sometimes or always; 26% Bully worked alone

For more information on workplace bullying, visit our resources page “Let’s Talk About…”™ and view our webinar, Bullying In the Workplace.

*© 2008, Workplace Bullying Institute, bullyinginstitute.org

(Originally posted to KidsTerrain.com)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes...

On Saturday August 30, three years and two days after hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, I saw a segment on Good Morning America about an extraordinary 3rd grade art project at a New Orleans elementary school. The children were asked to create two boxes—one filled with memories from the storm that changed their lives; the second to contain their hopes, wishes, and dreams for the future.

For these children, the memories of Katrina are still palpable. This was never more evident to me than in these words from 9-year-old Rodney Green.

"People are still suffering from the storm. People still don't have houses, food, and water. And people don't have enough money to afford it because of the storm. People are still struggling. Katrina never left," he said. "The water may have gone, but she never left.

As the powerful winds and rain of Gustav head towards these same shores, the resiliency of the men, women and children of this battered region will once again be pushed to extraordinary limits. People will suffer from yet another storm. Homes, many just recently rebuilt, and houses in the final stages of becoming homes, stand on the precipice of disaster.

The water may have gone, but she never left. And now Gustav is about to join his sister.

(Originally posted to KidsTerrain.)

Just What We Need, More Hubris (Dear John McCain...)

To: John McCain:

I'd like to submit my qualifications for Chief of Staff. (Actually, I've more executive experience than Sarah, but she's already nabbed the VP nomination). But if Sarah truly believes she is qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, she just may need me there in the wings as her Chief of Staff.

Here's a comparison of our résumés for your convenience:

Sarah Palin: Governor of Alaska for 18 months; mayor of Wasilla, pop. 5,470 (2000 census), BA Journalism; won the Miss Wasilla beauty contest (age 20), some sort of executive business experience, member NRA.

Rita Schiano: Owner Rita Schiano Freelance Writing/Editing; Owner The Reed Edwards Company; current Director of Communications KidsTerrain, Inc.; Owner/manager/chef Casual Cafe* restaurant (1989-2000); Vice President of Book Operations Executive Enterprises Publications Co. Inc (New York); past President and Vice President of BNI-Sturbridge, past Vice President Woman in Business; BA Philosophy; MA course work Miami University; Miss Teenage America pageant (took top 13 year old, Miss Central New York; member Rotary International District 7910; member Woman in Business; member Business Network International (Sturbridge Business Builders); member ASCAP

Sarah's belief in herself to be qualified for VP (and possibly the presidency) has inspired me to look deep within and find the hubris needed to throw my name in the running for Chief of Staff.

* 26% Close in first year; 61% close after 3 years...we were in business 11 years before pulling a "Seinfeld" -- going out while on top of the game.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It Gets More and More Insane....

On the news today I heard that the Iraqi government will have a budget surplus of $79 billion dollars this year. Does anyone else out there see the insanity of this? Our national debt has increased an average of $1.80 billion per day since September 2007. To date, the Pentagon tags the cost of the Iraq war at roughly $600 billion and counting. And Iraq has a $79 billion dollar surplus?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

S'plain It To Me, Lucy

How come those folks who use the "Never send a boy (read Obama) to do a man's (read McCain) job" have no problem sending boys to war?

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Cruel and Needless Death…

As this story continues to be in the news, I decided to share my thoughts on this as posted originally for KidsTerrain's Expert Blog Series last November...

I’ve been mulling over this topic for several days now, trying to wrap my mind and emotions around this horrific story. It is sad enough when a child feels so despondent that the only alternative is to take one’s life. But, in the case of Megan Meier, knowing that a parent…a neighbor who lived just four houses down from the child…played a part in this child’s death overwhelms me.

Megan’s parents were not neglectful; they did not allow their daughter unfettered access to MySpace. According to journalist Steve Pokin of the St. Charles Journal, Megan’s mother monitored quite closely whom her daughter added as a friend to her MySpace page.

The cyber-friend was ‘Josh Evans,’ a sixteen-year-old, good-looking boy (a fake photo) who claimed to live nearby and who was home-schooled. With her mother’s permission, Megan began on online friendship with ‘Josh.’ Once Megan’s trust was gained, the contact from ‘Josh’ grew nasty and vile. ‘He’ posted comments such as, “Megan Meier is a slut.”

The truth of this story may never have been known had another parent—who learned of the phony account from her own daughter who had access to the ‘Josh’ profile—not told Megan’s parents about the hoax several weeks after Megan’s death.

What sticks in my craw, not only in this case, but in the virtually unrestrained world of cyberspace, is how, once again, the law is not protecting our children. The woman who created ‘Josh Evans’ phony profile has not been charged with a crime. She allegedly told the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department she “created Josh’s profile” to gain Megan’s confidence and find out what Megan was saying about her own child online.

There is no law on the books to hold the neighbor-parent responsible for her actions. And it has taken nearly a year for the Megan Meier story to hit the national and international news. Megan’s parents are now leading the charge to create more legal safeguards for children on the Internet.

Incidents of cyber-bullying seem to be growing exponentially. For parents and teachers, dealing with child bullies is tough enough. But when the bullying of a child is done by an adult—a neighbor, a child’s friend’s parent—it’s enough to make me want to throw the right to privacy out with the bath water.

(Posted originally on 11/29/07 for KidsTerrain)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Deadly Summer Games

A deadly game has been growing in popularity across the country. Known as The Choking Game, kids get a quick high by stopping the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain. Yup! You read it right…

How do they play this so-called game? Sometimes they choke each other until one passes out. Or they may use a ligature. The latter method is extremely dangerous because more and more kids are “playing the game” alone. And the effects of the high are addictive.

The Choking Game can cause the permanent death of brain cells. Physicians say, too, that the variation in blood pressure “may also cause strokes, seizures, and retinal damage.”

Others do it because it’s “cool” and risky. Most of the kids who have died from this were not children in trouble. Most were well liked, active, intelligent, stable children who wanted nothing to do with drugs or alcohol. This was an activity they felt was safe. Children have no clue about the physiological principles involved and need to be told by the adults in their lives how dangerous this is.

Why kids are taking such risks with their lives? Think back to your adolescent and teen years. We all wanted to be cool. And, I dare say, most of us engaged in risky behavior. Most of us luckily survived, and without our parents even knowing the crazy things we did. Kids have no sense of their own mortality coupled with a strong sense of invincibility.

So what’s a parent to do? Talk with your kids…talk with your school officials, and talk with other parents. Open communication and education are always the best means.

Oh, and don’t fall into the “not my kid” trap. Ask yourself this question first: What stupid, idiotic activity did I do when I was their age? I bet most of us can up with at least one dumb thing we did. I know I can.

(Written for KidsTerrain)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Get Back In The Hangar!

Are you obsessed with your children? Do you hover about them, tending to their every (and often misperceived) need? Have you planned your child’s life from Day One almost to the point where you need a Day Planner or Blackberry dedicated to all his or her activities–soccer practice, dance lessons, violin lessons, play dates, and on and on ad nauseam?

Well, then you’ve graduated to a new class designation. That’s right, you’re no longer just a Baby Boomer, you’re a Helicopter Parent.

Mel Levine, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School in Chapel Hill and author of Ready or Not, Here Comes Life (Simon and Schuster, 2005) says today’s children “may well shatter.” He believes children are being coddled and protected to a degree that threatens their later ability to stand on their own.

Now a recent Wall Street Journal article thinks the blame belongs on Mr. Rogers (Blame It on Mr. Rogers: Why Young Adults Feel So Entitled July 5, 2007; Page B5). Now isn’t that typical of us Baby Boomers! Let's look beyond our own actions and place the blame elsewhere, like on that gentle, sweater-wearing, soft-spoken cultural icon.

The WSJ article quotes Don Chance, a finance professor at Louisiana State University, as saying he wishes more parents would offer kids this perspective: “The world owes you nothing. You have to work and compete. If you want to be special, you’ll have to prove it.”

Beverly Low, a dean at Colgate University, in an article in the Albany Times Union (January 27, 2005) says that where before parents would drop their kids off to college and get out of the way, parents now constantly call her office intervening in a roommate dispute or questioning a professor’s grading system.

So next time the urge to hover (meddle) strikes you, stay grounded. Do what a parent should do. Help your children make good choices. Show them that self-reliance ain’t just a Ralph Waldo Emerson essay in English Lit. It’s the way to survive and thrive in the grown-up world.

(Originally written for KidsTerrain.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Topics In The News

Many of you folks probably don't know that I write a blog for a great company called KidsTerrain, Inc. Over the next few weeks I'm going to share some of those entries with you. I encourage you, too, to explore KidsTerrain...and excellent resource company for issues involving the family, school, and work.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Four years to write...and only months to get "shelved'

Recently, my novel Painting The Invisible Man was "turned down" for a review because it was "old"...meaning it came out in the fall of 2007.

This attitude is such a conundrum in publishing. A writer spends years creating a book; then the copyright date and the market determines its shelf life....It’s a crazy system, and one that works for the six major publishing houses only.

The fact of the matter, particular for small presses that do not have $50,000-$100,000 to spend on a national ad campaign, is that our back list is our lifeline. We can find new, untapped markets for our books years after the copyright date.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Intolerant of Tolerance

Okay...I have a bone to pick with Tolerance. My snit with the word began a few years back when I received several Teach Tolerance stickers. I've never quite understood why anyone wants to be tolerated? Why teach tolerance? Why not Teach Understanding?

Monday, June 9, 2008

New Feature

I've added a blog list feature to this web site. You'll find my soon to be growing list of bloggers to check out on the right navigation of this page. Today's entries include Tom Barnes' Rock The Tower and Joan Reeves' Sling Words
Many more to come!

have a favorite blog? Let me know! Post it in the comments section below!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New Book From Reed Edwards Company

I am pleased to announce that my publishing company, The Reed Edwards Company, has just release its latest book, Far East Of The Sun by Janina Chung.

New Release Celebration! All Reed Edwards Books are 15% off now through June 30, 2008!



Here's a little bit about the book.

While most Americans know of the atrocities of World War II through films such as Holocaust, Sophie's Choice, and Schindler's List, Janina Stankiewicz Chung simply knows. Her family endured life under Communist oppression in Russia, forced relocation to Hitler's hellish concentration camps, and the sorrow of losing their homeland.

And that's just part of her story.

Far East Of The Sun is a remarkable love story inspired by the deep and enduring love of her parents, their passionate belief in the dignity of all people, and their remarkable courage that sustained them throughout their tumultuous lives.

Chung has written a novel rich in character and action-packed drama. is both a powerful moral saga, as well as living proof of the power of unconditional love.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dad’s Murder Inspires Novel

Excerpt with permission from article written by: Russ Tarby, Eagle Newspapers (4/1/08)


Rita Schiano’s dad…was shot to death in December 1976. Dripping blood from six bullet holes, his body was found on a rural road just north of the Onondaga County line. He was 55.

Rita, then 21, was attending…college... She knew that her dad, a North Side produce dealer and professional gambler, had enemies. But that didn’t make his violent death any less horrific.

Fast forward to the 1980s: Rita’s cousin…marrie(s) prominent local defense attorney…,the lawyer who had [successfully] represented [the] accused killer.

That familial friction became one of the many sub-plots of Rita’s new novel, Painting the Invisible Man, based on her father’s death.

Boasting a conversational prose style spiced with 1970s’ allusions (Jethro Tull, Muhammad Ali, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Schiano’s story flows smoothly even as she swings rhythmically from present-day action to flashback. The use of italics to denote either flashbacks or inner thought is especially effective in keeping readers on track.

While the gangland rub-out drives the book, it’s less a mystery and more a coming-of-age story, Rita’s own. She’s represented here as the novel’s narrator, Anna Matteo. We get to know the youthful Anna, a wiseacre who talks back to her teachers, carries a pellet gun in a shoulder holster under her school jacket and reads books like Compulsion. And we get to know the 21st century Anna who, due to a computer-era twist of fate, finds herself reliving the whys and wherefores of her dad’s untimely death two decades past.

Along the way, Anna recalls her relationships with her family members and even her father’s mistress. She struggles with her cousin’s decision to wed the attorney who, in essence, got her dad’s killer off the hook. She goes undercover to meet with a mobster who may have pushed the button on her father. She falls in love with a research librarian.

Yes, there’s a touch of romance in Painting the Invisible Man, and -- despite its dark premise -- more than a hint of humor. Upon first meeting that attractive librarian, for instance, Anna quotes Groucho Marx: “Anything further, father? That can’t be right. Isn’t it anything farther further?” And the librarian recognizes the line from Horsefeathers, hinting to Anna that she has found a soul mate….

….While the author focuses on her father’s murder, the novel’s strongest character besides Anna herself is Anna’s mother, Theresa….a fully-realized, even flawed, character, a charming music teacher by day prone to jealous ravings at night.

Some of the book’s most harrowing scenes are those in which Anna and her…ma stake out the residence of her father’s girlfriend. Some of the novel’s most satisfying scenes involve food, notably the Christmas Eve seafood feasts served annually by her mother. Later, an intimate restaurant dinner of osso buca, braised veal shanks accompanied by Chianti Classico-Riserva, crystallizes a budding relationship.

Not only are the leading roles well defined, but the novel’s minor characters are also finely drawn. There’s grade-school pantywaist Peter Veneziano. There’s Father Ricciardi, a self-righteous cleric who insists that Anna’s father repent his evil ways. There’s pastry shop owner Gino Palermo, Sister Mary Bridget who scolds with a brogue, the suave gangster Joey Casella and Anna’s best friend, Lisa Paradides, who harbors some secrets about her own mom and dad.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Meet The Author with Denny Griffin

Tune in to listen to my interview on (Las Vegas) where we discussed my writing of Painting The Invisible Man.http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

April 8: Today on "Talk To Me..."

Tune In Today!
4:30 p.m. Eastern!
www.blogtalkradio.com/rita

Today on "Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People"

My guest today is psychologist and author Dr. Ron Breazeale. Ron is the author of Reaching Home and Duct Tape Isn't Enough. We'll be talking about the politics of fear versus the politics of hope, the role of resilience, and his work with the Maine Resilience Project.

Tune in, Call in, Live! 347-327-9158 and Talk to me...and Ron Breazeale!

Can't tune in today? The show will be available in the archives. Simply go to Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People. www.blogtalkradio.com/rita

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Role of the Muse

Tune in to listen to my PodCast Interview on The Writing Show with Paula B (Los Angeles) where we discussed the role of the Muse and how Amy Tan unknowingly took on that role in my writing of Painting The Invisible Man.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Today on "Talk To Me...the Incomparable Mrs. Fixit!

Tune In Today!
4:30 p.m. Eastern!
www.blogtalkradio.com/rita

Today on "Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People"

My guest will be the incomparable Mrs. Fixit!

My guest today is nationally syndicated television and radio easy home repair guru, Mrs. Fixit! Mrs. Fixit (aka Terri McGraw) is the author of Mrs. Fixit Easy Home Repair and Mrs. Fixit Pantry Power. ( http://www.mrsfixit.com)

Tune in, Call in, Live! 347-327-9158 and Talk to me...and Mrs. Fixit!

Can't tune in today? The show will be available in the archives. Simply go to Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People. www.blogtalkradio.com/rita

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

March 11: Today on "Talk To Me...actor Gary Galone

Tune In Today!
4:30 p.m. Eastern!
www.blogtalkradio.com/rita


Today on "Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People"

My guest will be the actor Gary Galone.

Gary Galone will be talking about his work on Law & Order, Showtime's Brotherhood, his upcoming movie, Ashecliffe directed by Martin Scorcese, and his own independent production Flea Season.

Tune in, Call in, Live! 347-327-9158 and Talk to me...and Gary!

Can't tune in today? The show will be available in the archives. Simply go to Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People. www.blogtalkradio.com/rita

Friday, February 29, 2008

March 4 on "Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People"

March 4, 2008 on "Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People"

My guest will be the Young Adult Fantasy author Shawn Cormier.

Shawn Cormier will be talking about his third book, Necromancer. "Necromancer gives readers what they've long waited for -- a rousing conclusion to the trilogy begun in Nomadin and continued in NiDemon. Put this trilogy on your 'must-keep' shelf.

Tune in,
4:30 p.m. Eastern

Call in, Live! www.blogtalkradio.com/rita
347-327-9158 and Talk to me...and Shawn!

Can't tune in today? The show will be available in the archives. Simply go to Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

February 26, on "Talk To Me..."

Today on "Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People"

My guests will be the dynamic musical duo Fiske and Herrera. Fiske amd Herrera are creating quite a stir in the online music world. Known for their tight harmony and ambitious arrangements, the singer-songwriters recently won first and third place in the OurStage.com Acoustic Music Channel competition. Their song “Bad Dream," from their debut CD “Just Breathe,” won first place.

Tune in, Call In live 347-327-9158

Friday, February 22, 2008

This Week's Guest....

February 19 on "Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People"



Here my interview with Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice. "An intensely intimate portrait of Alzheimer's seasoned with highly accurate and useful information about this insidious and devastating disease." Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi, co-author, Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer's Disease.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Guest Today on "Talk To Me..." -

Today on "Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People"

My guest will be Dennis McCurdy, author of Find A Way: A Guide To Getting The Most Out Of Life. "A straightforward compilation of suggestions that will simplify your life and set you on the path toward success. The book has the feel of a friendly neighbor sharing the secrets that enabled him to win in life. This is an easy read that pays big dividends.— Tolly Burkan, author of Extreme Spirituality Radical Approaches to Awakening

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tune In, Call In!

My BlogTalkRadio show, "Talk To Me...Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People," or CUPs as I like to call 'em, debuts on February 12th at 4:30 p.m. (Eastern). You can hear the show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rita.

My guest will be Dennis McCurdy, author of "Find A Way: A Guide To Getting The Most Out Of Life" "A straightforward compilation of suggestions that will simplify your life and set you on the path toward success. The book has the feel of a friendly neighbor sharing the secrets that enabled him to win in life. This is an easy read that pays big dividends.— Tolly Burkan, author of Extreme Spirituality Radical Approaches to Awakening

Tune in, Call In live 347-327-9158

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Why Is It...

Why is it...that every winter when there's a freeze in Florida, I see shocked farmers scrambling to protect their crops?
It's winter, folks. Temperatures are going to plummet at least one day during the season. Word to farmers: Join the Boy Scouts. Be prepared

Why is it...that every time there's the threat of a freeze in Florida, newscasters say "and consumers can expect to see a jump in the price of orange juice in coming weeks"?
S'plain it to me, Lucy. How come when the weather is oh-so-Florida grand, we never hear "and consumers can expect to see a decrease in the price of orange juice in coming weeks"?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

It's Horse-Trading Day In Iowa Today

Iowa's caucus rules are arcane, to say the least. And yet, that old horse-trading system has a massive effect on our election process, especially if you are a Democrat. Here's how it works.

When the Democratic caucuses begins tonight, promptly at 7:00 p.m. in the 1,781 precincts across the state, caucusii, as I like to call them, will walk to the corner or area by the wall designated for their candidate of choice.

Next, party officials will determine if a candidate meets the 15% "threshold" requirement. Now, here's where the horse-trading begins. Supporters of candidates garnering less than 15% of the vote are "persuaded" to re-cast their votes for a 15%-and-up candidate. Luckily for those caucusing Iowans, there aren't many Italians in Iowa.

Once everyone has decided where to vote ("If you want feed for your livestock, Arnold, you dang better mosey on over to my side of the wall"), a second tally is taken. The results are then sent to Democratic state party headquarters via snail mail.

And how do Republicans do it? By secret ballot (surprise, surprise) and, since there is no viability threshold, each vote is simply tallied and the number of votes each candidate gets is reported to party headquarters. Boring!!

Now, I'm an Independent. If I lived in Iowa, I'd probably sign up to be a Democrat for a day. Their caucus sounds like a lot more fun. And hey, if I can get a deal on my livestock feed in the process, why not? (Oh wait, doesn't that attitude make me a Republican?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What I Wish For In 2008....

What I Wish For In 2008....

Here are 5 things I wish to see occur in the new year. Please add yours...

...societal sanity
...less reality TV
...an end to political hypocrisy
...a sane, new president
...an exit strategy in Iraq
-- Rita