Graduation Books for High School Graduates

graduation books hat

When I graduated from high school and college, I got many inspirational, meaningful books that helped me to find my passion in life. Here are some of my favorites…

The Alchemist

An engaging story about finding your passion

In this beautifully written hunt for treasure from Spain to Egypt, Santiago learns to follow his passion, to never give up and that love can be transformative. Our lives are filled with signs that point us do our dreams — all we have to do is listen to them!

Favorite Quotes:
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

The Alchemist, 197 pages, fiction

The Little Prince

A tearful story about following your heart

This is an endearing story about a pilot who crash lands in the Sahara and meets a curious boy from space while he repairs his plane. With child-like playfulness, the Little Prince talks about space and questions the pilot about being an adult. Through these stories we get a raw view of how many adults lost their way because they were so caught up in the important (but meaningless) details of being an adult. The tender story does not shy away from the loneliness and loss that we are all bound to feel sometime during our life.

Favorite Quotes:
“Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

The Little Prince, 96 pages with illustrations, fiction

The Whens

A whimsical picture book about following your smile

The Whens are friendly monsters that illustrate the idea “I’ll be happy when…”. After spending a lifetime searching for the next bigger and better When to finally make him happy, the main character steps off the path and listens to his heart. By following his passion, he realizes he can be happy now.

Favorite Quotes:
“I had almost been fooled into thinking I could find happiness outside of myself.”
“I only listen to my smile”

The Whens, 40 pages, picture book

Oh The Places You’ll Go

Dr. Seuss’ don’t-put-off-your-life rhyme

Through lighthearted rhymes, Dr. Seuss tells the story of a man at the start of his journey to move mountains. He warns about waiting too long to pursue your dream and flat-out says that everyone will have “bang-ups” on their journey… but that’s okay because you have a 98 3/4th chance of succeeding!

Favorite Quote:
“So be sure when you step,
Step with care and great tact.
And remember that life’s
A Great Balancing Act.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed)”

Oh The Places You’ll Go, 56 pages, picture book

Tuesdays With Morrie

Twenty years after graduating, Mitch contacts a former college professor who is dying of a terminal illness. Every Tuesday he meets with Morrie for one final lesson: how to live a happy life. From his deathbed, Morrie inspires Mitch to make the most out of his life.

Favorite Quotes:
“Accept who you are; and revel in it.”
“Love wins, love always wins.”
“Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hold on too long.”

Tuesdays With Morrie, 192 pages, true story

Hands (and the world) are Amazing

the world is amazing
My son often looks at his hands. When he’s staring at them, nothing else matters. His world is captivating, new, interesting, exciting. He has the biggest smile on his face.

Whenever I feel bored or worry that I’m nothing special, I look down at my hands and try to remember what it was like to see them for the first time… the dozens of places they bend… the countless shapes they make… the actions they can perform… the wrinkles on the skin.

Then I wonder how I ever felt bored living in such a magical world. Everything around you is amazing from hands to electricity to carpet to music — you just have to be willing to appreciate it.

My First Poem

my first poem

In English class we learned about poems and then the teacher told us all to write one as homework. Even though that was years ago, I still remember that assignment clearly.

After school I took a pen and some paper to the top of the valley where I lived. Sitting in the tall grass, I stared at the ocean to one side and the mountains to the other. There were no distractions. It was just me and my pen.

The poem always stuck with me. After I graduated college, I turned it into a song that I played at open mic nights in Wellington.

What was special about that day wasn’t the poem, but the lovely afternoon I spent writing in the sun. It’s easy as an adult to forget about the joy of writing (or the joy of anything!). We all need more days spent relaxing in the sun.

So here’s my first poem. It’s funny how I pretended to understand heartache long before I learned what this poem really meant.

A rainbow used to have seven colours
now it’s just got three.
It’s black and blue and grey
since you gone left me.

In summer time how the sun did shine
but that was only when you were mine all mine.
It beats my heart up that you won’t be mine.
You’re so fine.

Tear drops falling from the sky,
raindrops falling from my eyes,
Blue liquids, blue inside.

The moon once a magic place where we used to dance
in a trance how we’d dance
Now it’s just a sterile moon
white like a hospital room.

Masquerade: the start of my treasure hunt

masquerade treasure

Masquerade treasure from Kit Williams

When I was about ten I read a book called Masquerade that was written and illustrated by Kit Williams. It was full of elaborate pictures littered with carefully designed clues that would lead you to real treasure he buried in England. Even though I wasn’t in England, I could still participate. If you solved the riddle and mailed him a letter, he would dig it up for you. (I’m not sure if he dug up holes for all the wrong guesses! :)


My sister and I stared for hours at that book, dreaming about how it would feel to unearth a massive treasure. Even twenty years later I still get a rush of excitement when I think about the book.


That is the sign of a good story: it lingers in your imagination decades later. The “treasures” I have wanted during my lifetime have changed many times, but there is something universally appealing about the search.


I googled to see if the treasure was unclaimed, and sadly was unearthed when I was four. However, I will still give the book to my son, so that I can inspire him to search for back yard yetis, toadstool fairies, loch ness monsters and all the other treasures that make this world a rich place to live.

NASA: How I learned about dreaming

how a dreamer sees earth

As a kid I dreamed about being an astronaut. I wanted to see the Earth from space. I wanted to experience all those photographs of stars and the moon first hand. But all of that changed when my brother told me it took a lot of maths to be an astronaut… and I changed my mind. (Suddenly space didn’t seem as appealing when it looked a lot more like homework.)

Touring NASA as an adult, I realized how right my brother was: astronauts were extremely smart (and surprisingly fit to endure the extremes of space travel). But it also made me think about dreaming. My dream changed so quickly based on one, tiny harmless comment from a family member. How many other dreams did I give up on just as easily? I never realized how much of an impact comments (or the approval/disapproval) of friends and family had on my life. Whose opinions do you listen to? What dreams did you give up on?

So thanks to all of my friends, family members (and husband!) that believe in my dreams and help me accomplish things that seemed impossible five years ago. A generation ago, we couldn’t comprehend space and now Sir Richard Branson is offering tourists a chance to visit space like you visit London…. someday I may be taking my son into orbit with me on a family vacation!

How do you survive your first trimester of pregnancy

Pregnant WomanEvery pregnancy is different — and you’re meant to have your pregnancy, but here are some tips that helped my first trimester go very smoothly.  I felt generally queasy, but never vomited once… which I would attribute to my diet.

  • Vitamins:  Don’t forget your prenatal vitamins.  They have lots of goodies (like folic acid) that you don’t normally eat enough of.  They’re an important safety net for your new baby.
  • Eat Often: I broke all of my meals into half, so I could eat something every couple hours.  Even when I felt a bit nauseous, I felt better if I could get something down.
  • Eat in the middle of the night:  You may be sleeping, but your baby is going 24×7.  It makes sense to me that most people have morning sickness after a night of their baby growing with no nutrients for it.  I kept a banana and peanut butter sandwich next to bed so I didn’t have to go 8 hours without food.
  • Avoid Processed Foods:  Every time I ate greasy fries, I felt horrible later in the day or that night… so I gave it up.  Whatever diet you have, try to reduce your processed foods by a notch or two.
  • Don’t overeat:  You’re not eating for two.  You’re eating for yourself and a poppy seed.  Yes it takes extra energy to build a baby, but this is not a license to eat everything you want.
  • What’s at the heart of your craving?  You have cravings because your body wants something for the baby… instead of just eating what comes to mind, ask yourself why the baby wants that food.  For example, I often craved butter and ice-cream (both very fattening!), but really the baby wanted calcium.  Whenever I craved dairy, I started with a small glass of milk.  If the craving didn’t go away, I splurged on some ice-cream… but sadly, the milk always made mine go away.
  • Reduce Junk Food and Caffeine:  The baby is going to take what it needs from the mother’s body…. so if you don’t replace those nutrients with good stuff, then the momma is left with nothing healthy.  So reduce your junk food.  (And with caffeine, I wouldn’t give my baby caffeine, so I tried not to give him caffeine in the womb either).
  • Research What’s Safe to Eat while Pregnant:  My midwife told me to avoid certain cheeses like brie and feta… alcohol… fish with lots of mercury and other foods.  Do some research into what foods are safer to eat — it might be time to give up those raw egg shakes.
  • Take care of yourself:  It takes a lot of energy to build a baby, so look after yourself.  Take naps.  Go to bed early.  Don’t try to do everything you used to.
  • Try Organics:  As a final bonus item, try eating more organics.  (Google the “dirty dozen” to see which produce contains the most pesticides — that’s a good place to start).  There are so many strange chemicals that get sprayed on our foods (and babies start out so fragile) that every bit probably helps.

 

Ideas need to steep

teapot
Ideas, like a good cup of tea, need time to steep.

Most of my books start as a concept that amuse me in some way… but before I start outlining the plot, I always let the concept sit in the back of my mind until it seems ready. I can’t explain how or why, but it grows roots into other ideas and before I know it, the whole story is waiting in my brain for me to write.

If I’m struggling on a particular scene, it’s usually best for me to take a nap, meditate or relax instead of trying to force the writing… the break from actively working on an idea allows it blossom.

How do you take your ideas? (with cream and sugar?) Are you more creative after a break?

Open Letter to All Mothers of Congressmen, Senators and Presidents

Capitol Building
Dear Mothers of Future Congressmen, Senators and Presidents,

I need your help. Please write a letter to your child and ask them to be nice if they win today. Growing up I was told to share, cooperate, listen and play nice with others. The last few governments have forgotten these simple, childhood lessons. I know your child may not agree with their other “classmates”, but they should still treat everyone with respect. There is a lot of middle ground we can work together on.

Too many government officials have forgotten we need to be decent people above all else. I implore you to remind them of their upbringing and call them out when they stray. Suggest a friendly lunch with a nice, young Senator from across the isle or ask them to  co-sponsor a bill with an opponent. It’s time to stop playing politics to get ahead personally and start using politics to build a better tomorrow for Americans.

Good luck with the elections. I welcome any of your thoughts on this subject. Thanks for keeping your kids in line,

-Steve