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Lola and CODY’S ALMOST TRIP TO THE ZOO by John Stack

Lola says: “This is my favorite book and my dad wrote it.”

Lola

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No Greater Love… by John E. Stack

Last month I wrote about my wonderful, exciting trip to our nation’s capital with four buses of 8th grade students. It was cold and sometimes rainy but we still were able to see a lot of history. I have to say that the war memorials were by far the most emotionally moving.

As we traveled past the Washington monument, we came upon the World War II memorial.
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Picture from About.com

A circular construction, divided into half separated by a reflection pool. One half was labeled Atlantic and the other half Pacific with pillars listing each state and territory. As you walk down the ramp to the reflecting pool area, you can read the names of the states and a feeling of awe begins to come over you. I immediately begin to think about my own Dad and the time that he spent away from his family while in the Pacific theater. One begins to realize that every man or woman that served during that time were willing to sacrifice their lives for the love of family and love of country.

The next memorial we visited was the Korean War Memorial.
Summer Tourists Visit DC Landmarks
Picture from About.com

As you approach the Lincoln Memorial along the reflection pool you are able to see off to the left shapes of soldiers in squad formation in front of a wall. There are no names engraved on the wall, but as you look closely you can see the faces of war. Images of soldiers appear to merge from the wall. A squad of soldiers stands guard in front of the wall. The statues are in full combat gear. If you look closely at the faces you can see the anguish, the loneliness and sense of fear in each man’s face. They look tired and worn. As you look upon the memorial, again you are over come with a sense of awe, wondering how they were able to survive. The men and women that served during this time also sacrificed for their families and country.

The Vietnam Memorial was next on the opposite side of the reflecting pool, and it really strikes a special place in my heart. This is from my era.
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Picture from About.com

I did not serve in Vietnam but did serve prior to the end. The name of nearly every soldier that died in that conflict is listed on that wall. The emotions associated with that memorial are almost overwhelming. This was the war that I remember most. One of my students came to me as we were leaving and told me that she had looked for the name of her grandfather who was killed shortly after arriving in country. We searched the books that reference locations of the names and were able to find her grandfather’s name. She made a rubbing to take home to her mom. This really touched me.

Most of us today have no real idea of sacrifice. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13. Take the opportunity to visit DC. I’m often not impressed with the things that go on there, but the really meaningful things can change your heart. If you know a veteran or the family of a vet, tell them thanks for their sacrifice.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo.

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You are Only as Old as You Feel by John E. Stack

I slept awful last night. Even though we have one of those fancy adjustable beds, I still had a difficult time sleeping. When I got up this morning, my back hurt, my knees ached, my arms were sore and I was generally exhausted. I would like to say it was from a really tough workout at the gym. I really would, but I can’t.

Now, I did have several good workouts the last week or so, but I didn’t work out on Friday. Friday, we went to a bounce house. If you have never been to one, I would highly recommend going, particularly if you have a child that is between two and five. Those are the ages where they want you to play with them and they are not embarrassed to see you jump up and down like a kid. As a matter of fact when kids are little they rather enjoy it.

I am old or quickly getting there. In less than a year I will be 60. Not a number that I’m excited about, but I would rather get there than not. We have three daughters – two of which are adults and one that is three and a half (adopted). We also have two grandsons, one that is two and one that is almost five.

Anyway, we met our middle daughter, her husband and my 2 year old grandson at the bounce house for a little playtime. As soon as my little one got her shoes off she ran for the tallest slide. When you are only three you are sometimes not tall enough to climb the steps made for big kids. When you are my size, you are a little too big to be climbing up air filled ladders to get to the top of a slide. Now, combine the two. In other words, it was lift Allie most of the way up the ladder and then quickly climb up after her. Usually, she didn’t bother to wait for me. She just slid down giggling and then turned to laugh at me as I came down.

Here is the best thing about a bounce house. An adult, if they will let themselves, can instantly revert to being a kid. When I was playing with and chasing my little girl, there were no aches or pains. When I heard “come on Papa”, my energy level soared. We crawled through tunnels, climbed up ladders and slid down slides. As soon as her feet hit the floor she was off to the next slide. We did visit the toddler area for about two minutes, just to see what was there. She picked up some toys where another child had made a mess and then it was back to the slides. We ran everywhere. After about two hours Allie was tired and hungry. I was flat exhausted and ready to eat pretty much anything.

The bad thing about bounce houses is that the feeling of undying youth fades quickly once you leave and by the next morning all the magic is gone. Thus the aches and pains. Would I do it again next week? You bet. I think it is more about playing with my little girl than anything else. If you get the opportunity check it out. You may have more fun than you’ve had in a while, because you are only as old as you feel.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo

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A Time to be Thankful by John E. Stack

It’s that time of year again. That time of year where I try to decide what to get my wife for Christmas. Christmas and birthday usually cause me undue stress. After 38 years of marriage (this month), I still can’t seem to figure out what to buy. I often ask her for some ideas, and she tells me I should listen more. I try, I really do, but being the man that I am and always have been I still can’t catch a clue.

When I think I know of an outfit that she will like I can casually point it out while shopping and she will say,”That’s nice but I wouldn’t wear it.” So I avoid clothing, except maybe jackets or pajamas. Books? “Oh, I probably wouldn’t read it.” And, I know better than to buy an appliance. Toaster = Doghouse, so I won’t go any further than that.

So, how does this tie in to being thankful. I’m thankful that I have to worry about what to buy. I’m thankful my wife and kids are still around to buy for. I know to many people who are estranged from their families, whose kids or other family members, won’t talk to them over some petty nonsense. Maybe divorce has affected their lives or even death of a loved one has turned their lives upside-down.

I’m thankful that God has provided me with a job where I can have a few extra dollars to spend on something frivolous or pass on to a charity. I’m thankful for the town I live in and the home where I reside. God has blessed us in so many ways.

There are so many that do not have the blessings we take for granted. Some throw their blessings away just by their actions. My wife and I receive many of these blessings – children who have been taken from their birth families because drugs, neglect or indifference. Most of our blessings come to us pint-size (new-born). We are foster parents. These parents do not know what they are missing out on.

One of my favorite Bible verses is James 1:27 which says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”

This Christmas season take time out for your family.  Take a few days from work and spend some real quality time with your loved ones.   If you can find the opportunity buy a gift for someone less fortunate and watch the smile on their face.  Remember, God blesses those who bless others.

I pray you all have a blessed and wonderful Christmas season.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo

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Who Would Have Thought?

I believe that everything happens for a purpose, that every decision that we make has an impact somewhere on someone whether we realize it or not.

I am not a technology wizard. I am lucky to get my computer to boot up so I can check my email. Don’t get me wrong. The computer has done many wonderful things for me, such as writing and corresponding, but the actual fact is I’m old school. I mean, I think I took Algebra before they invented handheld calculators.

Last month I published my first blog. I was scared to death. Others would read about what goes on in my mind. Scary, at least for me. Humorous, I’m sure for others. Anyway, after I had my son-in-law help set up my blog site, I finally got the thing downloaded on the day it was due. Within the next few days, I received some good comments and for those I am thankful.

One day I received the following message:

“Hi, John! This is so amazing! I hope to speak with you soon.”

And it was signed by a name I did not recognize (at that moment).

I thought it sounded kind of strange. I thought if I click on this where will it take me? Or am I getting ready to download a virus? For some reason, I could not bring myself to reject it or delete it. The longer I stared at the message the more I knew I needed to open it. One click and it was done.

I opened an email from a young lady that we had not seen since the mid 1990s. Is was a message from our god-daughter that we lost track of when I got out of the military. Around that same time her parents went through a divorce which made keeping track even more difficult. So, we lost touch.

Come to find out that she works at a University and had been to a workshop on computer security. The person running the workshop said that if you want to find out anything about someone, just Google them. You can find out anything on the internet. After looking for us for many years, she typed my name into the search bar and my blog came up.

Since then, we have been emailing back and forth, sharing pictures and stuff about our lives. It is amazing how people change in around 20 years. She is no longer that ten-year old little girl with blonde curls, but a married woman with kids of her own. We have even made contact with her Mom. We still have a lot of catching up to do and I can’t wait to talk to her Dad.

I guess technology isn’t all bad, it just takes some getting used to.  Oh, by the way, Happy Birthday to my grandson Aaron Ross and my bud Tim.  Love you guys.

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Interview with Cody, the Hero of “Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo” by John Stack

Who are you and where do you live?

My name is Cody. My mom said not to tell my last name because of the publicity. I live in Treble City.

Do you have any special strengths?

I’m pretty smart for an 8 year old, at least my Mom thinks so.

Do you have any skills?

I’m very curious. Sometimes it gets me into trouble. I also like to set things right if I can, like if someone is being treated bad.

Do you have a hero?

I really like Spiderman. Some of the other superheroes are okay, too. But, he can climb walls. So, Spiderman is my favorite.

Are you honorable?

I like to think so. My Mom and Dad taught me to do things that were right.

What makes you happy?

I’m happy when I feel that my Mom and Dad are proud of me.

Do you get along with your parents?

My Mom and Dad are great. At times, they do get fed up with some of the things I do, but I know they still love me.

Who was your first love?

If you don’t count my Mom then it would have to be Ms Morgan, my 3rd grade teacher. She is only a few years older than me and she is a pirate. I do have a few girls in my class, but most of them are still yucky.

Have you ever had an adventure?

Just one, but very few people believe me. Here’s what happened. Our class went on a field trip and our bus turned into a pirate ship. We bumped into a jel-urtle and escaped by using chocolate chip cookies. Then we went to Host Isle and found an Arang-a-roo and a Croc-adill-phant. Then we came home. I have no idea where Host Isle is, but I have been there.

What is your most prized possession?

My most prized possession is my emergency backpack. Even though I put stuff in there, I can always find what I need for an emergency.

What is your favorite food?

I really like pizza with lots of cheese, but it gets messy. I usually get it all over my face. My next favorite is cookies, especially chocolate chip. The best cookies come from Suzanne’s Bake Shop in Treble City.

What is your favorite beverage?

I really like almond milk. My Mom won’t let me drink much else except water.

Name five items in your pockets or backpack?

I carry my favorite marbles, a cat’s eye and a shooter. It’s blue. I have a small screwdriver. I also carry a small flashlight and my lucky quarter.

If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you rather be stranded with, a man or a woman?

If I had to be stranded on deserted island I think I would like Mr. Fletcher, the school custodian. He can do lots of things and speak several languages. If not him, then Mr. Arang-a-roo. Not only can he hop up high, he can climb trees too. He would be real good at finding food.

Where can we find out more about you and your story?

Check out my story @ http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/product_info.php?products_id=154&osCsid=12d5999b0c66e57ab41d49027ecb9554
It is available at Second Wind Publishing, Barnhill Books in Winston-Salem, NC and on Amazon.

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Interview with John Stack, author of “Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo”

What is your book about?

In my book “Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo”, Cody’s class is going on a field trip to the Onmi-zoo, or so they think. The school custodian, who is driving the bus, turns down a dark alley. He drives the bus in to a lake and it turns into a pirate ship, of which the custodian is 1st mate and their teacher is the captain. They are going on an expedition to Host Isle find some strange, but wonderful beasts. On the way, they encounter a giant sea monster with an exotic taste for chocolate chip cookies. Once they arrive on Host Isle and began their search, they come across the Orange Arang-a-roo. They also find some other very different animals, all of which want to go live at the Omni-zoo. It was an amazing trip, but did it really happen or was it just a dream? Arrrgh!

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

The idea for Cody began to develop about a year and a half before I started writing. The idea started as “Confused Zoo” but I couldn’t get it to mesh. I put Cody and one other character back in the back of my brain and the rest of the stuff in a folder. I developed a few new characters, but could not get the story going. So, I took my ideas and refilled them back into the back of my brain and let things cook. A few months later I became bored while my students were taking a test. It was at this point when it all came together.

How long did it take you to write your book?

Please remember that I write picture books, so keeping that in mind, from the point where all of my thoughts came together, it took about five hours of sporadic writing to get down the basics. After that it took another 2-3 hours to add specifics, like the ending. After I was satisfied with the story, I put it away for about a month. I then took it out for editing and reviewed it like I was reading it for the first time. So, if you look at the total time from initial concept to completion – at least a year. If you look at actual work, then maybe 15-16 hours.

What is your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

Since I work full time, have a 3 year old and we foster parent a newborn, I do not have a writing schedule per say. If I have free time after 9:00 pm I may write down some ideas or if we are traveling to the local big cities, I may have time to jot down a few thoughts. (Usually my wife drives everywhere we go.)

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m working on an idea for another “Cody” book that includes the discovery of another realm. Book 2 of the series is at the publisher and involves a rescue from the zoo. Book 3 awaits editing and involves a little girl that can change shapes.

At what age did you discover writing?

I figured out how to write a passable paper the second time I went to college (I was 40ish), but I really discovered writing around the youthful age of 55. It took another couple of years before anyone else agreed with me.

Does writing come easy for you?

Yes and no. I’ve not experienced writers block, but I have experienced what I would call situational block. When I’m working on a Cody book ideas just seem to flow. I may have to rewrite a few things to get the correct idea across, but it usually comes easy. What has given me difficulty is real life perspective through the eyes of a small child. I may have my immature “guy” moments, but 5 years old can be really tough.

How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?

I currently have three stories in my thoughts. Along with working on book four of Cody, I am working on a children’s picture book on adoption. I’m trying to write through the eyes of a five year old. I also want to write a book on fostered/adopted children for teens. Here I want to present actual adoption stories – both good and bad.

What do you like to read? What is your favorite genre?

I really like adolescent science fiction/fantasy. Usually, the authors steer away from profanity, extreme violence, and sexual situations. I like magic, elves and quests, but going from realm to realm is fun too.

What writer influenced you the most?

I really like the style of Piers Anthony and his Xanth series.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

To aspiring young (and old) authors I would say, write about what you know and enjoy. One you write something, put it away for several weeks and read it as if you had never read it before. It may surprise you

What words would you like to leave the world when you are gone?

Take care of yourself and your family, but don’t forget the orphans and fatherless.

My wife and I have raised 2 daughters and are now raising a third daughter whom we adopted last year. We have also been involved in the lives of 17 other children that were in our home for foster care.

Where do you get the names for your characters?

Names are fun and usually mean something special. I use kids that I have taught, daughters, grandsons, and friends. Family can be cool because you can often capture their personality in the character and no one really gets offended.

Do you have a saying or motto for your life and/or as a writer?

This comes from Colossians 3: 23. What ever you do, work at it with all your heart, as if working for the Lord.

Where can we find out more about your book?

Check out my book @ http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/product_info.php?products_id=154&osCsid=12d5999b0c66e57ab41d49027ecb9554

It is available at Second Wind Publishing, Barnhill Books in Winston-Salem, NC and on Amazon

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Excerpt From “Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo,” a children’s book by John Stack

Cody’s class is going on a field trip to the zoo, or so they think. As the bus passes through the middle of Treble City, the school custodian, who is driving the bus, turns down a dark alley. He drives the bus in to a lake and it turns into a pirate ship, of which the custodian is 1st mate and their teacher is the captain. They are on an expedition to find some strange, but wonderful beasts. But, do they ever make it to the zoo?

EXCERPT:

Cody was really confused. He thought they were going to the zoo and some how they were at a lake and Cody didn’t know that Treble City even had a lake.

But, things kept getting stranger and more confusing. All of a sudden some of the kids began to scream and that was when Mr. Fletcher drove the bus straight into the water. Ms. Morgan didn’t seem upset – even though the class was frantic.

All of a sudden Cody was no longer on a bus, but on a ship. Everyone was on the ship. Ms. Morgan was wearing strange clothes and so was Mr. Fletcher, and Mr. Fletcher was wearing a funny hat. As Cody and the others in his class walked around on deck, he could see that this was not just any boat, but a Pirate ship.

Ms Morgan wore clothes like a pirate and carried a long spy glass. “Children,” said Ms. Morgan, “please settle down. We are going on a special trip today.” Mr. Fletcher, who was steering the ship, just looked at us and said, “Arrgh!” Cody tried not to freak out, but this was really weird.

***

Writer: John Stack is a middle school math teacher in Kernersville, NC and this is his 15th year in the teaching profession. He attends a local Christian church. Prior to teaching, he served 20 years in the US Air Force helping design and build support facilities for the fliers. He has been married for 38 years. He and his wife have two natural daughters, ages 36 and 34, an adopted daughter who is three, and 2 grandsons, ages 4 and 2. He has been adopted by a retired racing greyhound named Lola and a Chihuahua named Millie.

Illustrator: Aron Daniels lives in Winston Salem, North Carolina with his wife, Amy, and their two dogs. A graduate of Western Carolina University’s School of the Art and Design, Aron works as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator.

Click here to buy: Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo

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What was I thinking by John E. Stack

I just had my first book published and I keep asking myself “what were you thinking? Who do you think you are trying to enter the literary world?  You are a math teacher. You have no writing skills. And, by the way, you really dislike writing things. It took you two tries to make it through college and now in your old age decide to write a book. And not just a book, but a children’s book series. What do you even remember about being a child?”

God gave me a passion for reading. I’m not big on space travel, but I don’t mind traversing dimensions. I like a little magic and maybe a talking dragon or two. Anyway, I have always been amazed at how someone could use words and create a new world with people, animals and all the stuff that goes with it. For years I thought that after all the stuff I’ve read there had to be a story floating around in my head somewhere.

I spent a short stint in the military – somewhere around 20 years and two weeks.  Not really my entire life but a chunk.   Being in the military can sometimes stifle ones imagination and for some reason writing anything other than training manuals never crossed my mind.

Anyway, I went back to college to become a teacher. I struggled through all the English classes and was often thankful that I was a Math major. After I graduated I landed that big teaching job and, again, writing never crossed my mind until I met that one student. You know the kind of kid you look at and say “if I ever get to write a book it will be about him.” In this case “him” was Cody. This lead to Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo.

Now, I’m back to asking “what were you thinking?” One Saturday morning in December as I was going to talk to my publisher, Mike, I prayed, “God, if this is what I’m supposed to do make it easy, if not then shut the door.” My prayer was answered and I am pleasantly stuck doing something I had never dreamed of, creating a new place with new and unusual animals.  How fun!   Now a second, third and fourth books are in the works and I am addicted to writing.  Sometimes you don’t have to thinkabout what to do – sometimes things just happen because they are supposed to.

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