Allison's Book Bag

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
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Losing a pet can be emotionally hard. In my lifetime, I have lost six dogs, three guinea pigs, and one cat. As a result, I’ve found myself benefiting more and more from books about the grieving process. This spring, in the aftermath of my husband and I saying goodbye to our adopted silky terrier, my dad borrowed a library book for me called Self-Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss by Russell Friedman, Cole James, and John James.

In the 186-page handbook, written by the trio who run The Grief Recovery Institute, covers both emotional and practical considerations. Much of the former can be found in the first four chapters. One chapter covers hurtful comments such as: “It was just a pet; you’ll get another.” Another chapter deals with major myths such as: “Time heals all wounds.” Yet another chapter lists short-term energy relieving habits and explains how they ultimately don’t work. For example, some ways pet owners try to cope is through shopping, working, exercise, or sex. The authors compare these solutions to that of pulling weeds, explaining that the habits might provide quick relief but don’t result in permanent peace. At times, I found the first four chapters over-analytical, as well as quickly dismissive of solutions that DO work for some such as support groups, but I also felt the authors made many valid points.

Chapters four to eight explain in great detail activities that grieving pet owners might try. Herein, lies the practical considerations, and comprises my favorite part. To start, the authors suggested graphing your pet losses. Next pick a single pet and create a timeline of your relationship with this pet. Then write a short narrative for every moment listed on the relationship timeline. Follow up with a list of the moments where you need to apologize or forgive your pet. Finally, write a letter to your pet. This letter should integrate positive memories, any instances that need apologies or forgiveness, and conclude with a goodbye. When done writing your letter, you should find a person to read your letter to who will both understand and offer comfort. If uncertain of what to include on a timeline, narrative, or letter, check out the multiple samples and idea prompts provided in the handbook.

The activities section is my favorite part. The authors rightfully point out that grief is emotional. It’s not enough to say, “I loved my pet. I’ll miss him.” One needs to find a way to work through loss to become emotionally complete. Otherwise, pet owners can risk enshrining their pets, become trapped in telling the stories of how their pet died, find themselves mired in guilt for all the ways they supposedly failed their pet, or even take legal action against their vet for not saving the life of their pet. The reality is there will never be enough time with the ones we love, whether animal or human. The handbook activities will help pet owners deal with the emotional impact of loss while also finding a way for life to have meaning and value without our beloved companion.

The purpose of Self-Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss is to provide support to grieving pet owners. There are around 14 million pet deaths per year, yet pet loss can continue to cripple. Pet owners struggling with their loss often won’t join a grief forum for those who have suffered the loss of a person. So there needs to be other solutions. Besides the activities I already mentioned, the handbook also considers how to deal with your pet’s stuff after loss, special dates and moments that awaken new feelings, and whether to cremate or bury your pet. As such, the handbook provides a concrete way to deal with grief over pet loss.

Saturday Snapshot invites bloggers to share photos. My husband and I just returned this past weekend from our annual vacation with my family in Canada. I’m slowly sorting through photos from our trip. In the meantime, I’d like to introduce you to the members in my family.

First, there’s my dad. He raised me by himself, my mom dying when I was four. After he retired from teaching, my dad married a lady from the Philippines. From my dad, I get my love of teaching children, reading and writing, and caring for animals. His other lifelong interests include studying the Bible and playing board games. In 2012, he combined some of his interests to create a blog called Open Theism.


During our 2015 visit, the family celebrated his seventy-seventh birthday as well as Father’s Day. Both occasions involved lots of gifts, with mostly clothes and money being given. Part of the latter went towards magazine subscriptions. The other half will no doubt go towards books or software. Finally, a triple-layered German Chocolate cake got eaten on both events.

On this particular vacation, I also appreciated getting to spend most of my mornings having quality time with my dad. One day, we visited a religious book store. The majority of the other days, if not taken up with hikes, we spent comparing software. Dad helped me pick out a Bible software program for topical studies and a design program for my planned storybooks.

Next, there’s my step-mom. She used to be a youth pastor in the Philippines. Over recent years, she has worked in a variety of positions, most often in home care. Some of her income goes to support her siblings back in the Philippines. Much of the rest goes towards renovating the family house. She likes to read, garden, shop, and make friends.

During our 2015 visit, Leonora had the afternoons off from work. Most every day, she brought home or prepared delicious filling dinners. She also often joined us for the family tradition of playing Crokinole in the evenings. I once attended an aerobics class with her.

While with my family, I belatedly celebrated Leonora’s birthday and Mother’s Day by taking her out for a restaurant meal and shopping for clothes at the local mall. The dress she’s wearing is one brought during our outing. Both she and my sister passed on many clothes to me. The top I’m wearing in the photo of Leonora and me is from their wardrobe.

Finally, there are my two siblings. My brother Robert turned twenty this year. He recently finished a transition program at our local community college, as well as took courses in a lab assistant program. Some other career interests he might consider are cooking and teaching piano. In May, he sent me the exciting news that he got a job at a local A&W. My brother used to play soccer. He still likes to read, play games (both board and video), and hang out with friends. He also helps with the multimedia at church. Over the years, our relationship has grown. For a long time, we used to play online games on Saturdays. Now we tend to use that time to chat on the phone about all kinds of random stuff for hours.

Prior to our visit, Robert wasn’t sure if he’d have energy to play games due to working long hours. As it turned out, he joined us to play Crokinole most evenings, as well as played some card and table hockey games with the family. We played Crokinole long enough that it stopped being the norm for whoever teamed up with Robert to win. Even my brother has his off days. :-) Andy was the grand winner in cribbage, although Robert came close. I love our family game tradition!

A year ago, my sister Shekinah graduated from high school. Since then, she’s completed her first year at college, with plans to major in psychology. Her long-term dream, however, is to become a lawyer. Shekinah is also talented in the creative fields, having at times drawn sketches and written stories. Like my brother, she also works in the fast-food industry. My sister used to play soccer too. She still likes to read, watch television, listen to music, and hang out with friends. When she was younger, we used to stay up all hours during my visits home and ask each all kinds of random questions.

Of the many reasons, Summer 2015 will be remembered, one involves sickness. A day after our arrival at my family’s place, Andy took sick with a migraine that disabled him for a week. With him barely up and about, I caught my sister’s cold. Or as Shekinah would have you believe, I up and took it from her. :-) After a few nasty days, I began to mend, although I remained slightly under-the-weather for the rest of trip. Apparently, not being content with being sick at the start, Andy “robbed” me of my cold during our last week with family. I’ve told my sister there are better gifts she could have given. ;-)

Happy July 4th! Next Saturday, I’ll return with photos from our Summer 2015 vacation.

As a follow-up to my reviews of two favorite writing guides from my childhood, I thought it might be fun to share some of my own samples with you. They will be from different sections of Gifts of Writing, as well as different stages of my life. Unfortunately, I don’t have any from my students to share, as I’ve been allowing them to take their work home without my making copies. Maybe another time!

HandBoundJournalThe first sample is my most treasured creation. It’s a hand-bound book I created used the instructions in Gifts of Writing. To create such a book, one needs paper, cardboard, scissors, glue, fabric, cloth tape, and a ruler. My having created the journal during my early teens, I don’t recall how difficult the task is or what obstacles I faced. The Tchudis do note that such a process can take a long time. They warn to be careful when using the glue, due to it sticking to everything. Also, they said that a hard-bound book can be used for many of the writing projects they refer to in their guide. I used mine for a journal. You can see that through repeated use and the passage of time, the journal shows wear and time but I still like it better than all my store-bought ones.

The next sample, that of a nature entry, includes two variations: one from my teens and one from my adulthood. Some ideas that the Tchudis listed for such a project included taking note of seasonal changes for animals and plants, writing descriptive poems that draw on the senses, and including photographs or pressed flowers. Both of my entries are a simple combination of words with art. The first is kind of gushy while the second, influenced by reading of full-fledged guides to nature journals, is more objective. Although my entries about everyday nature aren’t all that faithful, one direct result of them were pet journals. Some of those latter now serve as my main source of memories about pets whom I have lost.


The final sample, that of an About Me poster, is one I created as a teacher for school. It’s more elaborate than my students have ever made. That’s because mine includes photographs, while theirs generally consist of magazine clippings. Since the first one, which I’m displaying here, I’ve created others. I enjoy the process of selecting photos, writing captions, and organizing everything onto poster board. My students similarly seem to like flipping through magazines, finding pictures and words that describe them, and creating About Me posters. I display all of our work the first of every new school, as a way for classmates and visitors to get acquainted.

My being hired to teach two writing clubs this summer prompted me to review Gifts of Writing and The Young Writer’s Handbook. Over the next few weeks, I’ll review other relevant books and let you know that clubs go. Stay tuned!

YoungWritersHandbookA few years after giving me Gifts of Writing, a guide which overviews creative projects involving both words AND art, my dad gave me a second book by Susan and Stephen Tchudi: The Young Writer’s Handbook. The focus of The Young Writer’s Handbook is strictly on words, being a guide to the beginner who is serious about writing, but yet this guide has also remained part of my library from adolescence into adulthood. Like its predecessor, a huge appeal of The Young Writer’s Handbook is that it contains many project variations. An additional appeal is that the guide will broaden one’s writing experience, maybe even aspiring one to make writing a lifetime work.

Because of its emphasis on words, The Young Writer’s Handbook might initially seem no different from the dozens of writing guides already on the market. However, the Tchudis who spent twenty years classroom teaching and conducting writing workshops for young people, truly know the type of projects that will interest young people. Hence, they don’t just talk about stories or articles, but also discuss journals, letters, reports, and school newspapers. My earliest attempts to keep a journal proved a struggle, because I didn’t know what to record besides a mundane account of my day. The Tchudis encourage aspiring writers to also analyze opinions, collect sensory experiences, record dreams, collect world news, and explore words, expressions, and dialog. While it might seem dated in our technological age to talk about letters, my elementary-aged students at some point or another all want to write them. If nothing else, The Young Writer’s Handbook can teach the format, as well as point out the numerous audiences that letters can have. Reports is the only project covered which has never appealed to me, perhaps because this is the one most often already frequently-taught in school. At the same time, without fail, I always have at least one writing club student who wants to pick this as their project. Hence, I can see the reason for the Tchudis including a chapter on this writing mode.

A second appeal of The Young Writer’s Handbook are the opening and ending chapters. The first chapter talks about the history of writing, the uses of it in our current world, the future of writing, and the place of writing in each of our lives. Because the entire course of civilization can be traced in and through writing, a brief overview of its history seems like a totally appropriate way to start a handbook on the topic. Although in some ways the rest of the info will seem dated in our technological age, in other ways the info remains amazingly modern. News, laws, agreements, observations, literature, and journals all still rely on words—even if now they’re often online instead of on paper. The last chapter talks about publication, but again the Tchudis draw on their experience in working with young people to cater their suggestions specifically to them. One can publish for family, friends, school, and the local newspaper. Should one want to try a form of publication where one remains the boss, self-publishing is an option with distribution being to local youth groups, church organizations, and the YMCA.

Having been published in 1984, how does The Young Writer’s Handbook stand against the guides available today? Due to technological advances since its publication, there are admittedly ways The Young Writer’s Handbook is dated. A more current all-purpose guide would be expected to refer to computers and social media. However, even with technology, the modes of writing really haven’t changed and so The Young Writer’s Handbook can still serve to inspire those young people who desire to do “more writing than is customarily required of them at school”. Moreover, just like with Gifts of Writing, it can remind writers of all ages and levels of the real reason we should write: for the joy of it.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

GiftsWritingIn the 1980’s, my dad gave me Gifts of Writing by Susan and Stephen Tchudi, and the guide received much use from me during my formative years. When I eventually prepared to move out on my own, and so began to sell books, Gifts of Writing is one that I kept. Even my younger sister entered high school and developed an interest in creative activities, I sought out a second-hand copy for her rather than part with my own. Finally, a few years ago, when I first began to teach after school writing clubs, I developed a curriculum around the guide. As you can see Gifts of Writing has been a constant part of my life. Hence, my wanting to finally review it.

What about Gifts of Writing appealed to me as a both a young person and a fledging writing teacher? Unlike the norm of creative writing books, this particular guide overviews creative projects involving both words AND art. The first section in particular emphasizes this combination, showing how to make stationery, postcards, greeting cards, and posters. Other sections rely more heavily on words, but still draw on art, showing how to make books, graffiti walls, photograph-autograph albums, and nature journals. While I have always loved to write, the guide had high appeal to me because it allowed me to explore other creative modes too. At some point or another, artistic, musical, and theatrical expression have all appealed to me. As for my students, one reason a curriculum that combines two creative modes works is that levels of writing ability and interest can vary, even among those who join a writing club. Being able to integrate art helped those with more average literary talent to still produce fine publications.

A second feature that appealed to me is that like many creative writing books, Gifts of Writing provided a huge variety of variations on each type of project, meaning it serves the same function as a prompt book. Consider that just the section on making your own books contains nine made types of books: scrolls, accordion, quartos, mini-books, hand-bound, books for children, collaborative, stories and mini-novel, journals, and diaries. Within those types, there are also more variants too. For example, under collaborative books, these types of stories are covered: surprise, circle, and collection. My favorite during high school was the hand-bound book. I still have my journal that I created using this guide. The final section in the guide is about holiday projects. Inspired by it, I taught my students not only how to write blessings and curses, and wishes and warnings, but also nature descriptions and scary stories.

The final feature I wish to highlight is that because Gifts of Writing is for young people, the instructions for creating projects aren’t too short or too long but just right. For instance, there’s the section on how to create fortune cookies. To start, it lists materials for the fortunes and then outlines the procedures, which include cutting thin strips of paper and writing a funny fortune on each strip. As part of the procedures, there are also examples of fortunes written by young people. Next, it lists materials needed for the cookies. Then as one would find in a standard cookbook, it outlines the steps for baking the cookies, as well as provides tips on what to watch for and how to know when the cookies are baked. There are even diagrams, showing how to place the paper strips inside the cookies.

Does the guide ever fall short? Sure. Having being published in 1980, some material is outdated. To help my students write epitaphs, I had to look online for more modern examples. Also, as with any guide, one might at times wish for more detailed explanations. When my students latched onto writing stories, I had to draw on other sources for info about how to develop plot, character, setting, and theme.

Negatives aside, for myself as a young person, I always viewed the guide as perfect. Now, as a teacher, I find that very few other guides that focus on crafty writers and so it remains a much-used resource. Available second-hand, Gifts of Writing will prove an invaluable addition to the shelves of any creative person, whatever your age.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

July: Assorted Titles

This being summer, my selections for this month are diverse. As part of teaching writing clubs, I have come across a few writing guides that I'd like to share. I'll also feature reviews of books for our multicultural committee and our local pet club. Enjoy!

  • Gifts of Writing by Harriet and Judy
  • Handbook of Writing by Harriet and Judy
  • Making Books by Paul Johnson
  • Get Writing by Paul Johnson
  • Cyd Charisse trilogy by Rachel Cohn



Thirty days. Minimum average of 1666 words per day. A total of 50,000 words. I am a NaNo Winner for two years in a row and my novel in its second version.

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