The Parent’s Guide to the Modern World by Richard Daniel Curtis – Book Release

The Parent’s Guide to the Modern World

Raising a child in the 21st Century is scary! There are so many threats to your adolescent that you worry about what they are up to in their bedroom, let alone when they are out with their friends.

The world is so different than when we grew up, young people nowadays have different expectations about life and use so much technology. It’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed at times. Even things that were simple have gotten more complicated, issues like gender identity or sex. It’s hard to know where to start with technology, every time you feel you have a grip on what your child is into, they talk about something else you’ve never heard of.

Life as a parent is overwhelming!

The Parent’s Guide to the Modern World gives you the answers to the worries you haven’t even realized you have. Starting with a section on how your child’s brain develops and explaining why their personality changes so much during puberty. It even helps you to structure any difficult conversations you need to have with your teen or soon to be a teen.

The book then goes through over thirty different aspects of the modern world, telling you about the risks associated with each, plus the dos and don’ts for you as parents. Following this, part three focusses on the predictions for the world your child will be an adult in; helping you to understand the things you can do now to give them the best chances in life. Finally, the book contains a handy glossary of terms your young person might be using.

Worried about how to help your child understand these risks? Why not buy them the sister book The Young Person’s Guide to the Modern World.

Purchase on Amazon UK –


About Richard Daniel Curtis

Based in Southampton with his partner and their young son, Richard Daniel Curtis is an internationally renowned behaviour expert and futurist passionate about helping people understand mindset and psychology. A former teacher, and mental health support worker, Richard is known for his impact with turning around some of the most extreme behaviours and is consulted about adults and children around the globe, even having two assessments named after him. He has founded The Root of It -an organization of qualified professionals available to support schools and individuals with behavioural difficulties- for which he was awarded the Gold Scoot Headline Award in 2015 and Best New Business in 2014. Most recently he launched The Mentoring School to train the psychology related to mentoring people of all ages. For his work and expertise, he has been interviewed for the BBC, ITV, and Sky News TV and various international print media and radio. His previous titles include 101 Tips for Parents, 101 More Tips for Parents and 101 Behaviour Tips for Parents (2014) and Gratitude at Home (2016).





 Guest Post

The Social Media Divorce – advice for parents of teens

Richard Daniel Curtis

The Kid Calmer and author of The Parent’s Guide to the Modern World

You love your children, you’re a proud parent and you’ve shared their successes (and a few mishaps) on your social media for most of their lives, so why are they now telling you that you embarrass them online?

Teenagers nowadays are referred to as Generation Z, they were born after the millennium and had technology in their hands from birth. Social media has existed in much of their lives and they are used to having instant connections with friends and family all over the world. Certainly, by the time they matured into middle childhood, at the age of 7 or 8, Facebook was becoming a household name. By that time smartphones were widespread, as were digital cameras, so this generation have grown up under the lens of social media.

However, throughout their teenage years, they are very likely to reassess their own image, personality and how the world perceive them. This can lead to the Social Media Divorce…

I use this phrase to describe the process of unpicking and setting new boundaries about images or videos of them and your social media accounts. I always advise parents to build a trusting relationship with their child as they approach adolescence, making that shift from disciplinarian to life coach. Some children want to have completely separate social media lives from their parents, others are content with things as they are, others want to remain connected to their parents and want images or tags removed.

First of all, don’t ignore this, for your child this is huge, dismissing that is likely to make them more determined. You’ll need your child to take the lead on this, ultimately it is about them and you as the parent can always save the digital images rather than have them on social media. You’ll want them to feel comfortable with the arrangements and that you understand them. It’s likely you’ll have this conversation over several days or weeks, but here I’ll go through the four steps to the conversation (or conversations as you have them).


Initially, you want your child to not perceive you or the conversation as a threat. Maybe you are going to be doing something together, playing a game, walking the dog, cooking. This helps to make sure that the conversation isn’t a face-to-face one. Face-to-face conversations are the hardest to have as instantly you psychologically take opposite sides, whereas if you are both looking at something together then the conversation takes a different tone.


When helping someone to resolve an issue, or even deal with loss or grief, an important early step is to give them the space to allow their head to sort the thoughts out. Crowding an overwhelmed brain by asking lots of questions, like ‘how do you feel?’, just causes more overload and often causes a defensive response. However, sitting with someone in silence makes it alright to sort those thoughts out, to fit them into the existing schema in our brains and to slot them into the various compartments of our experience. Ask them “how do you feel about us being connected on Facebook?” then remain silent.


As humans, we are constantly trying to help other people by suggesting what they could do or say; with children, many parents find they even finish their sentences in a bid to be helpful. When faced with an issue, this is not helpful; let the silence grow and as it does and they work out their thoughts, you’ll find you move to the third step when your child asks questions or verbalizes their thoughts. For you, this stage is predominantly listening, with the use of questions for clarifications or for refocus.


It is only now that you can move onto the final stage, reaching the agreement. This is likely to happen over several conversations, but just like in divorce will involve conversations about the big picture stuff (Am I allowed to be connected to you or follow you? Can I tag you in posts, videos or pictures?), all the way to the more finer detailed things (these are the pictures I want you to remove, these are the things I don’t want my friends seeing).

Remember, it’s an important dialogue to have, even if it’s in parts. Let your child guide the outcomes, whilst you guide the flow conversation. In a few years, they’ll probably enjoy reminiscing and looking through the old photos and videos, however as we all know that whilst a teenager is trying to establish their adult identity they probably want to be in charge.



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Parental Alienation

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Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a form of child abuse. Parental alienation is the process, and the result, of a parent psychologically brain washing their child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect and even hostility towards the other parent. In some cases, the alienating parent will deepen the brain washing by witholding the child from the other parents’ parenting time, manipulating the police with false allegations, taking advantage of the courts – who don’t have effective mechanisms to handle these cases. These children victims often suffer social adjust challenges face difficulty re-engaging with the needed love of the targeted parent.

Parental alienation is very prevalent, with 13% of all parents reported alienation and 48% of those to be deemed extreme(Harman, Leder-Elder, Biringen 2016). Of note and contrary to popular belief, there is no significant gender variation – it’s about 50/50. This is growing health crisis and hidden epidemic, out of sight because the children have no physical signs of abuse and they don’t even know they are being abused. A parent who inflicts parental alienation child abuse typically has either a narcissistic personality disorder (6% of the population) or a borderline personality disorder (6% of the population) or fit both diagnoses (10% of the population) (Grant et al. 2008). If one of these diagnosis is present, divorce trauma anxiety often triggers that parent to initiate alienation behavior in order to mediate their loss experience associated with the divorce. (Interpretation from C.A. Childress, Psy.D. 2015)

The long-term effects of parental alienation revealed seven major areas of impact on the victims: (1) low self-esteem, (2) depression, (3) drug/alcohol abuse, (4) lack of trust, (5) alienation from own children, (6) divorce.


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Pretty Little World by Elizabeth LaBan and Melissa DePino – Review


In a desperate attempt to keep things the same, they change everything. Now there’s a secret behind the row-house walls of Emerson Street.

Pretty Little World

by Elizabeth LaBan and Melissa DePino On-sale January 17, 2017

On a cozy street in Philadelphia, three neighboring families have become the best of friends. They can’t imagine life without one another—until one family outgrows their tiny row house. In a bid to stay together, a crazy idea is born: What if they tear down the walls between their homes and live together under one roof? And so an experiment begins.

In PRETTY LITTLE WORLD, authors and real-life friends and neighbors Elizabeth LaBan (The Tragedy Paper, The Grandparents Handbook, and The Restaurant Critic’s Wife) and Melissa DePino present a snapshot of a modern family with a sentimental yearning for community. Bucking the trend of an increasingly fragmented society more accustomed to isolation than cooperation, the friends create a shared space that’s as practical as it is idyllic—six adults to keep you company, six pair of hands to pick up the slack with the kids and the housework. But before long, love, lies, and lust collide, and their “pretty little world” gets rocked by reality.

Celia and Mark now have the space they need, but is this really what Celia’s increasingly distant husband wants? Stephanie embraces the idea of one big, happy family, but has she considered how it may exacerbate the stark differences between her and her husband, Chris? While Hope always wanted a larger family with Leo, will caring for all the children really satisfy that need?

Commune, co-op, urban Utopia…their unconventional living arrangement helps them discover much of the magic they hoped for in a loving, extended family. It will also test each couple’s bond. Behind closed doors, they strive to preserve the closeness they treasure. But when the walls come down, the boundaries get blurred, and they find themselves crossing sacred borders, they’re forced to question their choices, and re-imagine the true meaning of family.


elizabeth-laban_300dpiElizabeth LaBan is the author of The Tragedy Paper, which has been translated into eleven languages, The Grandparents Handbook, which has been translated into seven languages, and The Restaurant Critic’s Wife. She lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant-critic husband and two children.






melissa-depino_300dpiMelissa DePino lives in Philadelphia and is a founding partner and principal of Leapfrog Group, a marketing communications firm specializing in non-profits. In her spare time, she reads voraciously, writes fiction, practices yoga, and enjoys live music.


My Thoughts –

I absolutely loved this book. I wanted to live on the same street, right next door and be part of their group. I wanted to share in the dinners out on the lawn every evening and sit and gossip with them around the table at night. This was a wonderful book about friends who became family to each other and decided to make combine their families in a unique way – and that is all I’m going to say on the book. I want you to read it. I do not want to regurgitate the book and spoil the plot.

The book is well-written and enjoyable to read. I was sad when I got to the end. For me, it was a book I wanted to go on forever and ever.

As you might guess, I’m giving this book every bit of five stars!

Praise for Pretty Little World

“A tender, charming, and deliciously diverting story about love, marriage, and how your restaurant- review sausage gets made. The Restaurant Critic’s Wife is compulsively readable and richly detailed, a guilt-free treat that will have you devouring every word.”
—Jennifer Weiner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Good In Bed,

Best Friends Forever, and Who Do You Love
“Elizabeth LaBan’s novel The Restaurant Critic’s Wife stirs in love and intrigue making for a savory delight that pairs perfectly with your armchair. Prepare to be charmed!”—Elin Hilderbrand, author of The Rumor

“A heartfelt and relatable look at a woman navigating the difficulties of marriage and motherhood— while struggling to maintain a sense of self. Written with charm, honesty, and an insider’s eye into a usually hidden slice of the restaurant world, it’s a winning recipe.”
—Sarah Pekkanen, internationally bestselling author of Things You Won’t Say

“In her debut novel for adults, Elizabeth LaBan cooks up a delectable buffet about motherhood, friendship, ambition and romance (albeit one in need of a little more spice). LaBan’s four-star story has the satisfying effect of a delicious meal shared with friends you can’t wait to see again.” —Elisabeth Egan, author of A Window Opens

“The narrative flows effortlessly, and the dialogue is engaging and evocative. Lila and Sam’s love and devotion, despite expected bumps along the way, provides a sensitive look at rediscovering yourself and your marriage.”—Publishers Weekly

“Lila is a gripping character. Author LaBan, who is married to a restaurant critic, excellently makes the joys and difficulties of young motherhood feel real on the page. Readers who are in the thick of raising a young family will enjoy, as will foodies looking for insight into the restaurant world.” —Library Journal

“Two things engage me when it comes to fiction—characters I want to spend more time with, and details, the juicier the better, from a world I’m curious about but not likely to ever experience. Elizabeth LaBan’s novel The Restaurant Critic’s Wife has both…The best part? Ms. LaBan really is a restaurant critic’s wife. Her husband writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer—which means that the wonderful details in the book both ring true and occasionally are.”
—New York Times, Motherlode

“Thoroughly entertaining.”—People

Pretty Little World can be purchased on Amazon here –

Pieces of Me, Rescuing my Kidnapped Daughters by Lizabeth Meredith, Memoir – Review


In 1994, Lizbeth Meredith said goodbye to her four- and six-year-old daughters for a visit with their non-custodial father—only to learn days later that they had been kidnapped and taken to their father’s home country of Greece.

Twenty-nine and just on the verge of making her dreams of financial independence for her and her daughters come true, Lizbeth now faced a $100,000 problem on a $10 an hour budget. For the next two years—fueled by memories of her own childhood kidnapping—Lizbeth traded in her small life for a life more public, traveling to the White House and Greece, and becoming a local media sensation in order to garner interest in her efforts. The generous community of Anchorage becomes Lizbeth’s makeshift family—one that is replicated by a growing number of Greeks and expats overseas who help Lizbeth navigate the turbulent path leading back to her daughters.

Lizbeth Meredith is a writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in psychology. She has worked as a domestic violence advocate and a child abuse investigator, and with at-risk teens as a juvenile probation supervisor. She blogs at, is a contributor to A Girls’ Guide To Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson, and is the author of When Push Comes to Shove: How to Help When Someone You Love Is Being Abused. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska near her two adult daughters.

My review

Pieces of Me is a book everyone should read. While some mothers should never have been mothers, I believe that the majority of mothers were born to be mothers. Lizbeth Meredith is one of those moms.

Going through a difficult and trying divorce didn’t break her, but when her ex-husband kidnapped her daughters and fled to Greece, the struggle to bring them home almost did.

As the author states in her book, no one can imagine or predict the effects such a trauma will have on children caught in this situation. Children want to love and please both parents, but when one of those parents manipulates them into believing one of their parents no longer loves them, it crosses the line into parental alienation. Too often, the alienated parent does not have the opportunity to correct the lies, and when they do it is often difficult because the people around the children (grandparents, uncles, aunts) also believe the lies and perpetuate them.

When parents come from different countries, retrieving the children is still not easy. There are proper channels and procedures that must be followed even when a non-custodial parent has abducted the children, and we all know the wheels of justice turn slowly when dealing with other countries. Lizbeth Meredith ran straight into this brick wall. But, it didn’t stop her; and she hit it many times.

Pieces of Me is a book about a mother’s determination to find and bring her children back home to the United States after her ex-husband abducted them and fled to his native country of Greece. It was a long struggle that costs Lizbeth and her children more than years of their lives and money. They paid the highest costs, love and piece of mind.

The children are now grown, but as so many victims of parental abduction and alienation will attest to, the nightmares still reign and life may never be normal again. Both the girls and Lizbeth struggle to this day with the after effects of the abduction. She was very brave to take the chance and speak out in order to educate others about their ordeal.

This book is worth the read. Just be prepared to have your heart broken.


Lizbeth Meredith has been kind enough to provide an excerpt from the book. This is the final chapter.


I wish I could say that we’ve gone on to live happily ever after, but real life is much more complicated. Healing from trauma has been a slow and steady process for my daughters, and for me. If you’d asked me a year or two after my daughters returned, in 1996, if they had (mostly) recovered from their experiences, I would have said yes. In my estimation, since I got them into therapy and provided a structured, safe home environment and we enjoyed a stable support network, they were on the perfect path to success. I assumed that the passage of time + counseling + a positive support system = a normal, healthy adult.

It turns out I was wrong. We made it through the initial health challenges: Meredith’s exposure to tuberculosis in Greece and Marianthi’s stomach problems that appeared to stem from anxiety.

Marianthi described her overall sense of guilt at not telling the flight attendants in 1994 that her father did not have permission to take her and her sister on a plane—at the ripe old age of six. The girls flourished in school almost immediately upon their return. They even got pets and eventually came to terms with not getting the little brother they’d requested. They excelled in soccer. One was a cheerleader. Both held jobs after school when they were old enough and helped pay for their extras.

On the other hand, the girls didn’t spare me a lick of pain and suffering in their teens. Both went through periods of experimental drug use. They became moody and defiant around age fifteen, and I felt as if I had very little influence. I, in turn, took it all very personally and responded in kind. When I told Meredith at sixteen that if she lived in my house, she’d have to follow my rules, she moved, renting an apartment with a coworker from Starbucks. It took six months of living on her own to realize she needed to change her ways to have the future she hoped for. Thanks to my older sister, who offered her a place to stay, Meredith relocated to her aunt’s and finished her senior year in high school in New Mexico, where she eventually completed college as well.

Marianthi went to college in Washington for a time. I didn’t notice it right away, but cracks started to develop in her psyche and then webbed out. She was terrified of my leaving her on campus. I told her that all kids are nervous when their parents leave them for the first time. It was only natural—a buck up, kid; you’ll be fine kind of deal.

But she wasn’t fine. By the time two semesters had passed, her anxiety had given way to full-blown mania, and the collateral damage that followed took years to repair. Meanwhile, Meredith became physically ill with heart-stopping, gut-exploding autoimmune conditions that worked against each other to keep her in chronic pain. And, as if that weren’t enough, Marianthi’s physical health also began to deteriorate, and then Meredith was swallowed by depression and anxiety and flashbacks.

I wish I’d been more tuned into the issues they faced. You might think I’d have empathized easily, since I, too, was a kidnapped child, but my experience was different from theirs. I found my father when I was a young adult, and it was a process I initiated. They were located as small children and abruptly brought back to the United states by me without warning.

It took a long time for me to wrap my mind around not only the aftermath of the girls’ kidnapping but also their difficult return home to their former lives. A child kidnapped by a family member is abruptly uprooted from her family life, her friends, her toys, her routines. There is no closure. All normalcy simply disappears. If she’s taken to another country, she loses her language and culture, too. And in order to survive, she mustn’t grieve but instead align with her abductor, who often works hard to replace the child’s positive memories of her left-behind parent with negative ones. Little by little. “Your dad tried to kill me,” my mom insisted over and over. “Your mom locked you in a room when you were little and left you alone,” Gregory told my daughters.

The abductor skillfully applies guilt to the child if the child demonstrates loss, and more guilt comes when the child learns she must lie to authorities about her life. “My mom is dead,” my daughter told her new Greek teacher. There is guilt for lying to new friends made, and guilt when the child realizes she is forgetting her left-behind parent. Identity is lost. The abducted child understands that there is no one to depend on because a parent she loved took her away from the other parent she loved. Childhood, and the feeling of safety that should accompany it, has ended.

I assumed things would bounce back to near-normal upon the girls’ return, but the recovery from abduction is more like a second abduction. Once again, the child loses all, without closure. My daughters lost their Greek friends, their Greek extended family, their teachers, their new culture, and their father. All the same losses, all over again. They were planted back with me, the woman who didn’t protect them from being kidnapped in the first place.

When people later heard of their kidnapping, their response was, “Oh. At least it was with your father,” minimizing, if not discounting altogether, the girls’ experiences. So then they felt self-conscious. Just get over it was the implied message, and I seconded the sentiment. I wanted them to be thrilled about being reunited with me and was crushed when they displayed emotions to the contrary.

Similarly, I acted as if their adult suffering were a personal affront, at least at first. Don’t I deserve some pleasant years, now that I’ve raised my kids on my own? Why do I have to do all of the clean-up, anyhow? Why doesn’t their father get to feel the brunt of his abuse of our daughters? All I want is to see them grow up and take flight so I can be proud and then reclaim some of my life for myself. I am driving home one day from work when I hear Dr. Bessel van der Kolk on the radio. I have read some of his works before. Dr. van der Kolk heads the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, and authored The Body Keeps the Score.

He speaks about the destructive impact early traumas have on a person over the course of a lifetime. When I was a young parent, I assumed that since I left my husband when my daughters were tiny, they wouldn’t feel the full effect of being exposed to domestic violence. Likewise, when they returned from Greece, they were still little girls, so I told myself that the damage would be less impactful.

Not so, according to Dr. van der Kolk, and other brain researchers agree. Prebirth experiences—things like domestic violence and stress from poverty—affect how well a child develops language, develops connections with others, and develops physically and mentally. Trauma after birth will likely compromise that little human’s physical and mental health and, if unaddressed, will shorten her life expectancy by up to twenty years.

A brutalized child develops an angry brain, Dr. van der Kolk says. “Children kept in a state of terror and fear get brains that are chronically afraid.” And if a child hasn’t been able to trust her parents to protect her early on, then her response to subsequent traumas is that much more magnified. The lens through which the traumatized child sees the world is changed and determines how our muscles and our stress hormones organize themselves.

The body keeps the score.

Dr. van der Kolk endorses treatment from both Eastern and Western cultures. “In the East, people move. Yoga, meditation, tai chi . . . They learn to calm their bodies.” This, he says, helps move trauma out of the body. “In the West, people learn to talk and to speak the truth.” Talk therapy is helpful, especially combined with movement, to help us learn to calm and nurture ourselves.

My daughters, now in their late twenties, embrace both talk and movement therapy, and I believe they will have long and meaningful lives. Meredith finished college and works as a financial analyst. She is a yoga fanatic and enjoys outdoor sports. Marianthi is working toward her degree in psychology and, like her sister, loves the outdoors. Both are smart and sassy tomboys at heart. I hope that they’ll be able to fully reconnect with their family all over the globe, including their father, from whom they remain estranged after a fleeting attempt to have a normal relationship with him tanked a few years ago.

As for me, I’ve slowly and steadily worked my way back from being a hot mess with my own flashbacks and periods of rage to being a contented woman with an increasingly healthy lifestyle. I started with talk therapy, followed by Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR); then I earned a graduate degree in psychology and found meaningful work in state government.

I also began reconnecting with family when the girls and I got strong enough, and thanks to social media, it’s been easy to stay in touch and to continue meeting more of my relatives. It’s also allowed the girls to remain in contact with their Greek cousins and provided a means for their little Greek sister, born fourteen years ago, to contact them and reach out for sibling support. In her pictures, she looks like a perfect hybrid of both of my daughters, who plan to meet her.

It took well over a decade for me to climb out of debt, and there’s not been a single day since when I’ve lost my feeling of gladness. I’ve found there is an upside to having survived much turbulence. My daughters and I don’t have strong attachments to things and prefer to spend our time and money on shared experiences. We’ve been the recipients of uncommon grace and have all made a point of paying it forward through volunteering.

Each of us is passionate about culture and language, which is a good thing, since there are more than one hundred languages spoken in Anchorage alone. And we’ve grown more in love with Alaska, for both the wildlife and the generous people here, who take care of one another as though we are all extended family.

My life isn’t perfect, but it’s turned out better than I could have imagined. And despite my best efforts not to let some of the worst circumstances define it, they have. Because from them, I’ve learned to love writing and storytelling. I’ve carved out meaningful work helping people affected by trauma. I’ve become addicted to the adrenaline rush I get when traveling alone across the globe. And I’ve come to know the joy of contentment and the beauty of watching my kids blossom into adults.

My daughters may tell their own stories one day, but this is what I want them to remember of mine: once upon a time, a young mother with only pocket change, a host of bad memories, and a whole lot of love traveled the world to fight for their return, all by herself, and with the help of everyone. And they lived together, happily enough ever after, and with the knowledge that they were much more than lucky.



Awakening East, Moving our adopted children back to China byJohanna Garton – Spotlight


Johanna Garton explores adopted children’s roots in her poignant memoir  “Awakening East”

DENVER, CO — Just a few years after adopting son, Will, and daughter, Eden, from China, Johanna Garton and her husband made the decision to move their family across the world for one year to fully immerse themselves in their children’s culture and place of origin. Awakening East (Oct. 23; Marcinson Press) is the result of their epic adventure.

Beginning as a series of blog posts, Awakening East began to develop into a tale of humor, hardships and life lessons after Garton dived more deeply into the backstory and emotional journey each family member experienced while living abroad.

“We were each going through the same stressful situations in moving to a new country, but we had our own journey to overcome struggles,” says Garton. “When plunked in a foreign country and depending only on each other, the processes we each went through were amplified.”

While their year in China gave Garton broadened wisdom and understanding, she says her most memorable experience was visiting her son’s orphanage and daughter’s foster family.  “We adopted both children at the age of 12 months, so being able to piece together more details from the first year of their lives was invaluable.”

Garton’s hopes her memoir will inspire readers to understand that adoption doesn’t always have to be a backup plan, but another wonderful option in the choice of becoming a parent. She says, “At the end of the day, having a child call you Mom or Dad is the most important thing, isn’t it?”

About Johanna Garton

Johanna Garton fills her days as owner of Missionworks Consulting, a nonprofit management consulting firm in Denver. She leads workshops for parents on traveling back to China through the Chinese Heritage Camp in Denver through Regis University. For those looking for something a little more close to home, Johanna also developed Kids Yoga Speak  while preparing for her year in China. The program is based on Total Physical Response and teaches children Chinese by incorporating the language into a yoga routine. The program can be accessed through the website or through a downloadable app through iTunes.

Purchase on Amazon –

Q&A with Author Johanna Garton

You are so candid and funny in sharing your journey. What inspired you to share your incredible story?

The story began merely as a series of blogs I wrote during our year in China.  The things we experienced on a daily basis were just so outlandish and so far from the norm of life in the United States that our following grew rapidly.  People were just very….curious and amused by our adventures.  When I got home, I decided to dive a little deeper into the emotional journey we’d all had, as well as the backstory and what led us to move abroad.  

Before I knew it, there was a story with an arc.  Moments of drama, humor, tension, intrigue.  On top of that, I suspected there were messages that would resonate with a variety of audiences.

What message do you hope other adoptive parents (or those considering adoption) get out of your story?

Most people approach the creation of a family with the same goal: wanting to be a mom or a dad.  Adoption isn’t typically front and center when most people plan to start a family, but I’ve always seen it as merely representing another road to the same end point.  I encourage people not to think of adoption as a backup plan, but as another wonderful option.  The journey to become a parent is laden with highs and lows – no matter how you get there.  At the end of the day, having a child call you Mom or Dad is the most important thing, isn’t it?

What would be one of your most surprising (or memorable) experiences from your time in China?

In terms of travel experiences, we all absolutely loved Cambodia and in particular, we fell in love with the ruins at Angkor Wat.  I found it completely captivating to watch the children enjoy the ancient ruins in the same way they would have enjoyed an amusement park at home…pure, childish delight.

But hands down the most memorable experience for me were the visits to our son’s orphanage and our daughter’s foster family.  We adopted both children at the age of 12 months, so being able to piece together more details from the first year of their lives was invaluable.

What was your biggest takeaway from your time abroad with your family?

I think I learned how different each person is when faced with adversity.  We each were going through the same stressful situations in moving to a new country, but we each had our own journey to overcome the struggles.  We took different lengths of time to adapt, and each of us had different coping mechanisms.  This concept isn’t something particularly earth-shattering, but when plunked in a foreign country and depending only on each other, the processes we each went through were amplified.

Have your kids caught the wanderlust bug?

Most definitely.  Will and Eden have become adept and eager little travelers.

What are Will and Eden’s perspective on your year abroad in China?

The children both talk about it frequently and fondly.  Our time there definitely instilled a sense of adventure in both of them that they might not have had otherwise.  Our mantra when we lived there, especially with Will was, “If you can do THIS, you can do anything you want.  For the rest of your life.”

You’ve pioneered a very engaging yoga program that also incorporates language learning for little ones. Can you tell me a bit more about Kids Yoga Speak and how the idea came about?

This actually came to fruition as we were preparing to move to China.  I wanted to teach them a little Chinese prior to our departure, and found the best way for them to learn the language was through movement.  The program uses short stories that incorporate a few words of Chinese.  Each story is set to a yoga routine so that children are moving and repeating the new word over and over, allowing it to sink in with physical motion.  

This is actually a well-studied theory of language acquisition called Total Physical Response, though I didn’t know that at the time we developed Kids Yoga Speak.  

That sounds much like how your book came about, too! Seems like a very natural process for you.

True!  It’s always so telling, isn’t it, to look back at the trajectory of your life and see how different experiences come together?  The Kids Yoga Speak project actually led me directly to the publisher for the book before I’d even finished the manuscript.  Now I just cannot WAIT to see where the book leads me!  

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I love the process of sitting down and having no idea where I might go. It’s fascinating to me how even the simplest, everyday experiences can become stories with depth, humor and passion.

How has sharing your story changed your life?

It’s definitely made me more curious about the stories of others.  A lot of memoirists are introverts, and I’m no different.  I think I’ve developed a great appreciation for untold stories and I find myself constantly deflecting conversations away from myself and onto others.  Everyone has vast reservoir of life experiences and I love pulling those out of people.


*The purchase link to Amazon is strictly for your convenience. My Life. One Story at a Time does not receive compensation. 

Garbage Bag Suitcase by Shenandoah Chefalo – Review


Garbage Bag Suitcase is the true story of Shenandoah Chefalo’s wholly dysfunctional journey through a childhood with neglectful, drug-and-alcohol addicted parents. She endured numerous moves in the middle of the night with just minutes to pack, multiple changes in schools, hunger, cruelty, and loneliness.

Finally at the age of 13, Shen had had enough. After being abandoned by her mother for months at her grandmother’s retirement community, she asked to be put into foster care. Surely she would fare better at a stable home than living with her mother? It turns out that it was not the storybook ending she had hoped for. With foster parents more interested in the income received by housing a foster child, Shen was once again neglected emotionally. The money she earned working at the local grocery store was taken by her foster parents to “cover her expenses.” When a car accident lands her in the hospital with grave injuries and no one came to visit her during her three-week stay, she realizes she is truly all alone in the world.

Overcoming her many adversities, Shen became part of the 3% of all foster care children who get into college, and the 1% who graduate. She became a successful businesswoman, got married, and had a daughter. Despite her numerous achievements in life, she still suffers from the long-term effects of neglect, and the coping skills that she adapted in her childhood are not always productive in her adult life. Garbage Bag Suitcase is not only the inspiring and hair-raising story of one woman’s journey to overcome her desolate childhood, but it also presents grass-root solutions on how to revamp the broken foster care system.

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Author Shenandoah Chefalo –  Plagued and embarrassed by her name (a humiliation enhanced by a nomadic childhood that made it impossible to build lasting relationships), Shenandoah Chefalo developed a tough skin at an early age. Along the way she learned to deal with disappointment, push through discomfort, overcome adversity, and accurately gauge people, qualities that have helped her to succeed.

After spending nearly 20 years as a Law Office Administrator, Shenandoah became unsettled by the ever-revolving door of the criminal justice system and set out to find a way to change it. She attended Coach U and became a certified life coach.

Working through that program, Shenandoah began to understand her childhood in a way she never had before. She began researching and learned that there are nearly 400,000 children in the foster care system each day in the United States. Out of those children, nearly 61% age out of the system without having a place to live; nearly 50% end up incarcerated within two years of aging out and almost 80% of people on death row are former foster alumni. These (and other statistics) made Shenandoah realize that she had to do something. She set out on a mission to tell her story and educate the general public about the grim realities of a life that she had always tried to hide. She believes that some of the grassroots solutions she offers in Garbage Bag Suitcase could change the lives of children and the landscape of the country.

Shenandoah Chefalo is a graduate of Michigan State University (holding a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science), a Core Essentials Graduate from Coach U, a Certified Law of Attraction Advanced Practitioner, a member of the National Speakers Association, and volunteers with several organizations locally, nationally and internationally.

Locally she is also much sought after for her advice and understanding of Social Media Marketing. Shenandoah Chefalo is also the author of an e-book entitled Setting Your Vision and Defining Your Goals and is currently working on another book called Hiking for Stillness.

My Review –

 I was only supposed to read and review the first couple of chapters of Garbage Bag Suitcase. Once I began reading the book, I couldn’t put it down.

…the general process of foster care. I suddenly came face-to-face with the truth in a way I never had. Without much work, I soon discovered that less than 1% of foster children receive a four-year degree, and that out of the nearly 1.6 million people incarcerated in the various correctional institutions nationwide, 1.3 million had been in the foster care system, or 80%. I knew that the system wasn’t great and I knew that I had struggled, but I had never taken the time to understand how bad it was. Over 400,000 children in foster care are affected every year and the number is growing.

Despite all of the odds stacked against her, Shenandoah not only graduated high school but went on to complete college. Garbage Bag Suitcase will break your heart. It is her story, told truthfully and without pretense. What the story reveals is just how broken our society is and how we are not only neglecting our country’s children but helping, by ignoring the problem, to raise broken adults.

This book, and especially Part Two, is meant to be an honest and open discussion about areas that make foster children view the world a little differently…talk openly about possible solutions…impact a child’s life…if we do not come together to solve this problem, we will continue to have millions of children, now adults, who have never known love, safety or stability.

Once foster children age out of care, they are left alone to fend for themselves. No home, nowhere to go except the streets, and eventually more often than not, into the criminal justice system.

I was along in the house. I was four…my stuffed animals…my only friends. Little me with my stringy blonde curls, dressed in hand-me-downs collected from various charity organizations and garage sales. I hunkered down for my favorite time of the day, when Bill Cosby’s “Picture Pages” came on in the middle of Captain Kangaroo…

It’s amazing what one complement can do in a person’s life. This one compliment forever changed the way I looked at myself. His words stuck with me. “You’re special.” I would repeat them over and over in my mind, and replay the conversation for Love Bunny. In my bedroom at night, I would daydream about my life. I would confide in my friends (stuffed animals) about my desire to go to college. They all questioned college, kids from our neighborhood should feel lucky to just get a job, after all. But my determination grew to escape the low expectations that the world had set for me, that I had set for myself. These words…were the first positive recognition I had ever received.

Even when families on television tried to depict fighting, it seemed mild from what I had known, and in the end everyone did the right thing. The only way I thought I could get a happy ending was by rolling the dice with these complete strangers. (foster care) But that is a child’s mind. Everyone is wonderful, kind and caring. I assumed that families or couples who were taking in foster kids would be top-notch. Surely some who had gone through vigorous training, underwent state background checks, and had a case worker checking in on them regularly would be the greatest parents of all. What I hadn’t realized or taken into account was that the system is broken…I had one purpose I soon discovered, and that was to help pay the bills. I had become a paycheck…but this was the first time I became the source of revenue.

I had little support and got mixed messages. At some schools, teachers would tell me how talented or smart I was. At others, teachers pointed at me and said things like “Everyone here, maybe not you, goes to college.” Apparently this teacher thought that foster kids should find jobs instead of planning on college…why couldn’t I go? A stop in the counselor’s office to get some information confirmed my doubts. “People like you don’t go to college. They go to work, serving people like me.”

Ridicule and lack of support continue to haunt foster children long into adulthood if it ever goes away. They struggle with little to no self-esteem and lack of acceptance. They struggle with forgiveness – of themselves and of the system. So many foster children suffer from food issues, having never had enough growing up. They learn to give, but not receive. Foster children learn to blend into their surroundings, not wanting to admit to being in foster care.

Children in foster care are more likely to suffer from PTSD. Some are never diagnosed and others are given psychotropic medications. Shenandoah spouts off alarming statistics that should shake America to its core.

Lots of teens look forward to turning 18. It brings all the ideals of becoming an adult, living on your own and expanding your wings. When you turn the magical age of 18, as a foster child you are done. Out. On your own. No safety net. This is both beautiful and alarming. The beauty comes from thinking that you finally have freedom from the foster care system, getting to make your own decisions, not living under another stranger’s roof. What most teens seek, including those in the system, is the perceived freedom of adulthood…Days on my countdown clock continued to tick away. My foster parents had agreed to allow me to stay past my eighteenth birthday, which fell in the middle of my senior year, if I was still going to school full-time on course to graduate. That was at least a temporary solution, allowing me time to finish high school.

There are staggering statistics that need to be addressed. A mere 61% of foster children age out of care without a place to live, becoming homeless. Less than 50% of foster children complete high school or obtain a G.E.D. Out of these, less than 3% attend college and of the 3%, only 1% are expected to finish their degree.

“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” – Will Rogers

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” – C.S. Lewis

Garbage Bag Suitcase is the story of Shenandoah Chefalo, a child who grew up in an abusive home and went into foster care hoping for a better life. Life isn’t always fair, yet she not only survived foster care but graduated from college. She beat the odds. Now, she is out to open America’s eyes on the child foster care system. I am giving this book five stars. It is a must read for everyone. Children are our future and we do not have the luxury of dumping this problem into someone else’s lap.

I will end with one more quote – “When we stop asking, “What is wrong with that person?” and instead start asking, “What has happened to that person?” we can begin to change outcomes for those who have suffered great losses.”

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My Life. One Story at a Time. is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small fee may be earned when purchases are made at Amazon through the link above. A free book may have been provided by the source in exchange for an honest review. Views expressed by authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of My Life. One Story at a Time. My opinions are my own. This provided in accordance with the FTC 16 CFR, Part 55. 

My Organizing Tip of the Day – At the beginning of each month I check my calendar and purchase any birthday and anniversary cards for occasions coming up that month. It is a lot easier than running to the stationary store five or six times a month.