Author: Tori Eldridge

Exciting Stuff, Mindfulness, NINJA, Perspective, Relationships, Uncategorized

Welcoming the New Year with Past, Present & Future

Every beginning leaves its own unique mark; and what beginning is more universally significant than the start of the New Year?

2019 entered with a perfect synergy of past, present, and future.

It's a magical thing when we can step into our heritage and experience a hint of what life might have been like for our ancestors. Click To Tweet

Or what life might have been for us had our grandfather not taken that boat across the ocean to a new world. I’m referring to my family, but with yours, it might have been your mother, or grandmother, or great-great grandparent. Or, perhaps, you’ve gained a hint at what life for your ancestors might have been like right in your own hometown. Whatever the case…

A glimpse into the past informs the present and grounds us for the future. Click To Tweet

Our family rang in the New Year in Hong Kong with the fabulous family of our eldest son’s fiancé. We met in Shanghai and traveled to Hangzhou before landing in their hometown of Hong Kong. It was an incredible bonding experience that allowed me to experience a small part of China from a local perspective. It also expanded my cultural understanding of my own Chinese heritage.

We began our adventure in Shanghai, where our eldest son currently lives and works. We ate heavenly pork-stuffed mooncakes at Zhen Lao Da Fang, walked to The Bund and gaped at a sea of lights unlike anything I could imagine, learned (and kinda failed) to cook Sheng Jian Bao–pan fried pork buns filled with so much juice they explode if you don’t bite a corner and slurp–learned the intricacies of tea service at a out-of-sight tea house, and celebrated Christmas in our eldest son’s super cool apartment on the top two floors of a converted home. That’s just a taste of the many treats and sights we experienced as we power-walked through the city. (Did I mention the jazz club?)

Then we traveled by train to Hangzhou, The City of Heaven, where we stayed in a historically preserved village, hiked up a muddy hillside through a stone cemetery and the famous Longjing tea fields, ate fish noddle soup for breakfast under tarps in the rain, and took in the sublime beauty of West Lake by night and by day. (I can’t begin to guess the kilometers we walked!) Then we caught a flight to Hong Kong.

How perfect to leave my Westlake home in Greater Los Angeles to visit the picturesque West Lake in Hangzhou?

Once in Hong Kong, we stayed in a tiny but efficient Airbnb, learned the mass transit system, and marveled at the forest of high-rise apartment buildings. We enjoyed dim sum brunch with our future daughter-in-law’s maternal family–her sweet pó po (mother’s mother) and eldest aunt, neither of whom spoke English, and her youngest aunt and uncle who spoke English very well–and slipped into the family ritual with ease, noting the love they already felt for our eldest son and feeling a warm acceptance of expanded family.

Although dim sum brunch in Hong Kong felt familiar to my experiences in Honolulu, where I was born, and Los Angeles, where I live; it also had some notable dining differences.

In the west, restaurants either serve dishes with serving spoons or forks, or leave it to the customer to grab their har gow or siu mai with their own chopsticks. In Hong Kong, and mainland China, serving chopsticks are left on selected platters, usually set upon a rotating table top known in the West as a Lazy Susan. (If you’re interested in the history of this ubiquitous contraption, check out The Lazy Susan, the Classic Centerpiece of Chinese Restaurants, Is Neither Classic nor Chinese.)

In the East, paper is conserved and proper washing of linen is not assumed. Therefore, napkins, cloth or paper, are rarely set on the table. Instead, restaurants occasionally provide a box of multi-purpose tissue or rely on their customers to bring their own sturdy Tempo brand tissue.

Incidentally, carrying a pack of Tempo is also handy when visiting restrooms about town since toilet paper may or may not be provided. I was particularly fond of the jasmine scented Tempo and made sure to bring home quite a few.

Also…cold water is not a thing. Seriously. If you have your heart set on a tall glass of ice water on a hot day, forget it!

The main reason is the quality of the water: It can’t be trusted to drink. As a result, all of the water served in restaurants or in the homes are boiled and served hot. If you want room temperature water, let your hot water sit. If you want cold water, buy a bottle. And if you’re in Hong Kong–according to my future daughter-in-law–if you insist on ordering water with ice, you say, “Add two bucks!”

In fact, an additional charge applies to almost any change in your order even if what you’re requesting would normally be less expensive or an even exchange. Want noodles instead of rice, toast instead of English muffin, cold water instead of hot? Add two bucks! Fortunately, that’s Hong Kong dollars, which converts to roughly twenty-five cents.

Personally, I was happy to see pots of hot water on every table and kitchen counter, since hot water (or room temperature) is my standard drink, augmented by morning coffee and a whole lot of tea. I even learned a new way of drinking tea from my son’s future father-in-law, who gifted me this lovely tea cup.

So, yeah… I was a happy camper when it came to drinking in China.

Unless it involved alcohol.

I would have been in hot trouble at a business banquet, where everyone is expected to down fire liquor in seemingly endless toasts. It’s not only a mark of prestige and local acceptance to keep up, but a hard and fast requirement. As a non-drinker, I wouldn’t be allowed to attend such a business banquet, unless I was someone ridiculously important, which we all know I’m not! But as a hot water and tea drinker, I was in hog heaven.

Culture clash side note: On the flight home from Tokyo to Los Angeles, one of the American flight attendants, an abrasive woman in her fifties or sixties looked at me in surprise when I requested a cup of hot water. “You don’t look Chinese,” she said. “Chinese always order hot water.” After two weeks in Asia, I found the woman’s demeanor and brash comment to be shockingly impolite. Even more so when she snatched a snack box off my table to show the non-English speaking passenger against the window what she was offering!

So, what does all of this have to do with the past, present, and future?

As I mentioned earlier, my yé ye (mother’s father), who died before I was born, came to Hawaii from Canton, where he had a wife and several sons. While on Maui, earning money to send back to his number one family, he married a Hawaiian-Chinese woman and had seven more children. (By the way, this was not an uncommon situation back in the Hawaiian plantation days.)

Ching Family

My mother’s early Ching family portrait

So, you can imagine my interest in visiting China!

Past met future as I took in the homeland of my grandfather while spending Christmas and New Years with our son’s bride-to-be and her marvelous family. Our family has grown, and I am blessed beyond measure.

Which brings me to the present.

I’ve finally caught up on sleep and almost set the house in order. Now it’s time to buckle down for the work ahead–editing (and everything else involved) for the Fall release of my debut novel, The Ninja Daughter!

Out of everything I’ve written, The Ninja Daughter is the closest to my heart. It’s a homage to three (of four) cultures that have informed my personality and the way I walk in the world: my Chinese (and Hawaiian) mother, my North Dakota Norwegian father, and the Japanese art of the ninja. These are also the cultures of my protagonist, Lily Wong, and what makes her such an intriguingly complex character.

I’m excited to dive into the editing process with my publisher/editor, Jason Pinter. And double excited to be one of three launch authors for his new Polis Books Agora imprint, spearheaded by Chantelle Aimée Osman.

So here’s to 2019!

May it continue as it has begun…
with adventure, health, prosperity, family, and joy.

Calming Emotions, Exciting Stuff, Mindfulness, Uncategorized, Writing

Nervous Excitement of Achieving Your Goals

You know that feeling you get when, after years of concentrated effort, a thousand wishes, and mindfulness-challenging patience, you finally achieve your goal?

When every nerve in your body sparks with excitement and waves of conflicting emotions batter you from all sides? When you can’t stop pacing and smiling and trembling?

That moment when you realize that…now…the real work will begin?

The nervous excitement of achieving goals happens to everyone at one time or another. At least, I think it does. I can’t be the only person on the planet to react this way. Although, when it happens, it feels so personal. The details of our experience seem so specific that it’s hard to believe anyone else will relate.

But people are more alike than different.

The stories we share, no matter how specific, often feel familiar to others.

So, perhaps, my story will remind you of your own.

A month ago, I received some amazing news: my debut novel, The Ninja Daughter, would be published by the new Agora Books imprint of Polis Books.

I received this news from my agent while at lunch with a friend. Thank goodness. Because when the call finally ended and the negotiation progress conveyed in nerve-wracking detail, I was ready to jump out of my skin.

Had it really happened, just like that, seemingly out of the blue?

Seven years ago, I made a big commitment: I stopped training and teaching ninjutsu in order to pursue a career as a fiction writer. For me, there was no other way than complete immersion. I had done the same thing to achieve my fifth degree black belt in To Shin Do and knew I’d need to do the same with writing. So, I jumped in with focused intention and dogged determination.

This wasn’t the first time I had switched directions in the midst of success. I did the same thing when I left Cats to move to Los Angeles to try my hand at television and film. I did it again when I stopped acting, after eighteen episodes on The Love Boat and a guest-staring role on a television pilot, to raise my sons. And again, when I stopped training and teaching to write.

People around me thought I was nuts, but I knew it was the right thing to do for me–mind, body, and spirit. Each time, I made the leap and tried not to think about what might happen if I failed.

So there I was, on the phone with my agent, pacing outside the restaurant, getting the much hoped-for and slaved-after news–and out of all the emotions vying for my attention, the single greatest emotion that hit me was relief.

Can you relate to that? I’m positive you can.

When you put everything you have into an endeavor with no guarantee that anything will come of it, the relief is overwhelming. There’s joy and satisfaction, certainly, but there’s also a teensy bit of anxiety.

Every goal met marks a new goal begun. Click To Tweet

With every new job, there are new expectations, work, and deadlines. That can be scary, especially when the new job is in a new career.

Questions arise that you never thought to ask. Your mind is assaulted by things you need to do. And, although you only just got the news, time feels of the essence.

So that’s where I am on this mid-December day: scheduling work flows for two books, planning events, addressing marketing issues, starting an author page on Facebook, writing content, and preparing to leave on a trip of a lifetime to Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

What makes those cities so important? Oh, so many wonderful reasons.

But that’s a topic for another day.

Photo credit by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Calming Emotions, Mindfulness, Relationships

Peaceful Compassion without Suffering

When tragedy strikes, as in the case with the recent Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire, the heartache spreads beyond the borders of the affected areas to those with compassionate hearts. Family, friends, neighbors, people in the same state, country, planet (!) feel for those suffering unimaginable—or perhaps, far too imaginable—loss.

We feel for their suffering. We send prayers and good wishes. We connect and donate, We sift, clean, and carry. We bring them into our homes, board their pets, buy them dinner. We do what we can. And even a little is a lot. Because in times of grief, fear, and loss, caring of any kind is a reminder that we’re not alone.

But it can be painful to care, especially for those who take on the pain of others. Therefore, it’s important to remain strong so as not to detract from those in need.

Compassion is not measured by how much we suffer on behalf of others, but by our ability to support and connect with those in the midst of suffering. Click To Tweet

When the comforters become depressed and fearful, they lose the strength of detachment and the clarity of a calm mind. Focus splits, emotional support weakens, and those wanting to help become hindered by their own desire to stop feeling the hurt.

I blogged about Empathy without Suffering back in 2015 after speaking with CSUN graduate students who were studying for their masters in social working. Needless to say, emotional balance was a major concern.

It takes a calm mind and an unencumbered heart to provide meaningful comfort. Click To Tweet

When our minds and hearts are calm, we can be present for our friends in whatever way they need. We can receive their emotions as they journey through grief, anger, optimism, courage, fear, despair, gratitude—sometimes daily, sometimes minute by minute—without feeling a personal need for them to be positive. And that’s important because no one stays positive every moment. No one. Especially in the midst of hardship.

It's not the job of the suffering to inspire others with their courage and resilience. Emotions need to be felt, acknowledged, and processed in their own order, in their own time, and as often or long as necessary. Click To Tweet

Four years ago, when I was hosting the Empowered Living Radio podcast, I had the privilege of speaking with Shamar Rinpoche, the 14th reincarnated Sharmapa, about his new book THE PATH TO AWAKENING and the true nature of compassion. In it, he wrote the following sentence:

“You can help them by powerfully exerting your unemotional, unattached, unborn compassion.” – Shamar Rinpoche

A profound statement and one that resonated deeply with me since I had written about similar concepts in my book EMPOWERED LIVING: A Guide to Physical and Emotional Protection.

Shamar Rinpoche passed out of this lifetime two months after our conversation. I continue to treasure the experience and invite you to listen to the AWAKENING podcast. (Rinpoche speaks about how to embody compassion without suffering at the seven minute mark.)

If unemotional, unattached, unborn compassion seems too esoteric to embrace, then consider this quote from my own humble book.

“It’s not about us, is it? It’s about the one we love who needs our support. The depth of our relationship is not measured by how much or how visibly we suffer. It’s measured by how willing we are to be truly there for the other person. It takes a calm mind to recognize the needs of others and provide meaningful comfort. Suffering is not calm.”

So, please, feel deeply and care for others but do so with a calm mind and a peaceful heart.

Empowerment, Health, Mindfulness

Guided Meditation for Self Appreciation

We all need a boost of self appreciation every now and then, to remind us of our value and focus our attention on the positive energy we bring to the world. We need this to counter the litany of negativity that too often captivates our mind. Whether it comes from without or within, negative thoughts cling with stubborn tenacity. They depress our emotions, warp our perception, and undermine our confidence. Left unopposed, negativity can degrade our self worth.

I offer this guided meditation, read to you in my own voice from the intimacy of my own home, as a soothing dip into a calm and nurturing pool of self-appreciation. I hope you find it peaceful, rejuvenating, and empowering.

Guided Meditation on Self Appreciation

An excerpt from Empowered Living: A Guide to Physical and Emotional Protection by Tori Eldridge – available as an expanded ebook edition on Amazon.

As always, if you find value, please share.

Relationships, ShowBiz, Writing

Why I’m Crazy Happy for Crazy Rich Asians

I don’t often cheer in theaters. So when I do, I take notice. Four movies in particular have had that effect on me in recent years, the last of which was the insanely wonderful Crazy Rich Asians. I laughed, I cried, and I went back the next week and saw it again. And you know what? I loved it just as much. But first, let me tell you about the other three.

I was sitting in a fold up chair in the Malibu Jewish Center where the Malibu Film Society was hosting a pre-release screening of Hidden Figures. No IMAX screen. No surround sound. No popcorn and Coke. Just an astounding story about remarkable women, not shown as a side note to the well-recorded achievements of men, but as the heroes in their own right. There they were, captivating our attention and inspiring us with struggle, contribution, and achievement. I gotta say, it made my heart sing. And when the credits finally rolled, I wasn’t the only person in the audience to stand up and cheer. We all did.

The second movie to jolt me out of my seat was Wonder Woman. Weren’t those Amazon warriors a marvel, leaping and slashing with such strength, vigor, and grace? And when little Diana watched her heroes train below then leaped off the turret to join them, well—I soared right along with her. No thought of pain or failure entered her mind. She didn’t even know about her godlike powers at that point in the story. She just leaped off that wall to go after her dream. In that moment, Diana was me. And with that connection, I became Wonder Woman.

I felt that same exhilaration when I saw the women of Wakanda shine in Black Panther. From the smart and spunky tech-genius sister to the fearsome Dora Milaje warriors, they were all so fabulous. Powerful. Spirited. And to have those attributes personified by women of color? Even better.

And then came Crazy Rich Asians. Crazy, right? I mean, Wonder Woman and Black Panther are both super hero movies, so that makes sense. And Hidden Figures is an untold story of American heroes. So what’s the big deal about an over-the-top romantic comedy? What could these films possibly have in common?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

All four movies feature strong, courageous women who think for themselves and act with conviction. Each has their own style, attitude, and expertise. Some of them aren’t even nice. Because you know what? Women don’t have to be nice! Women make awesome villains. And colleagues. And friends. And family. And heroes. Women are inspiring and courageous and confounding. So when I see movies that resonate with who I feel myself to be and celebrates how I strive to live, I cheer.

Hero movies—whether they star women, men, aliens, or talking animals—give us all a chance to fight those great fights, vanquish evil, and right injustice. They remind us of our inner warrior and inspired us to be the best people we can be.

So what about that romantic comedy?

As a woman of mixed ethnicity, I relate strongly to ethnic characters. The Hawaiian in me adored seeing my brown face reflected in those beautiful Wakanda women. I related to their tribal ceremonies and exotic otherness. And while they weren’t created from my heritage, they spoke to me loud and clear.

Crazy Rich Asians, on the other hand, hit close to home. Not because of the ridiculous opulence or soap opera drama. Crazy Rich Asians hit close to home because I saw my mother, her friends, my friends, our families, our heritage—up on that screen. And in that moment a silly romcom became powerful.

Those faces. Those personalities. Those relationships.
I knew them.

Those women, each so different and yet bonded by ancestral heritage, reminded me of my Chinese mother and her friends, some of whom were so closely knit they discovered they were cousins. First, third, eight times removed—it didn’t matter—they, we (I) were all connected. We knew those aunties, friends, and cousins. We had that mother, father, and Ah Ma. We were on the receiving end of those veiled comments, inscrutable looks, and fierce love too often hidden and cryptically conveyed.

Which is why it’s so important to have movies like Crazy Rich Asians, Hidden Figures, Black Panther, and even Wonder Woman—with its empowerment theme and women-centric culture—scoring big in the box office: It encourages film studios and financiers to take a risk. And it empowers writers (like me!) to tell stories rich in culture that celebrate differences and resonates deep in our core. Their success reaches out to an audience that might never have considered them.

Regardless of how different the notes,
commonality always strikes a chord.

Calming Emotions, Mindfulness

Wrong Turns Allowed

Just before I fell asleep, a car swerved into my lane and shoved me off the road, jolting me out of that twilight state and back into my bed where I was safe and sound.

Well…safe. I’m not too sure about sound.

It took some calming affirmations to get myself relaxed enough to truly fall asleep. But whenever I woke in the night, I still had this unsettling feeling—as if at any moment, something unexpected would happen to derail me. As if I shouldn’t have been on that road.

As if I made a wrong turn.

I’m often invaded by sudden images, sometimes while wide awake. I’m walking along when—BAM!—I see and feel myself twisting an ankle. I can even hear the familiar crunch. It’s sudden and visceral and startling. And I hate it. But I understand it: I have a long history of falling off my foot.

The first time it happened I was living in Manhattan. I had just spent the day rehearsing for Cats, executing all manner of coordinated feats, when I stepped in a pothole and twisted my ankle. After that, all it took was a less than solid step for me to, literally, fall off my foot. No pothole necessary. Just a slight misalignment and down I’d go. It’s happened dozens of times since then, always unexpected, always painful, always accompanied by cringe-worthy crunch and a shock of pain.

So what does this have to do with a car running me off the road?

Insecurity

The unexpected car veering into my lane and the ankle I keep re-twisting in my imagination are signals from my subconscious that I’m feeling uncertain about myself. Did I take the wrong turn? Am I on the right course? Or is the bridge out ahead and I’m headed for disaster?

That’s what I love about this Toontown sign: It reminds me that wrong turns are okay, but more than that, it implies that wrong turns are a natural part of getting from here to there.

It’s scary to stretch out of the comfort zone.

We don’t know what to expect.

We don’t know how others will respond.

We don’t know if we’ll inadvertently cause harm or create a monumental mess.

We’re taking a chance, and in the process, risking failure.

So yeah… it’s scary. And yet, it needs to be done. Otherwise, how can we grow?

I remind myself of this when the startling images catch me unaware—while falling asleep, while walking through a lobby, while sitting at a table with friends with whom I should feel completely comfortable and am not. I shake off the feeling—a very visceral feeling—and remind myself that I am capable of handling whatever comes. Because that’s really what matters, isn’t it?

Confidence isn’t about always being right or perfect, it’s about knowing you can get back on course when you take a wrong turn.

Writing

Editing Advice from Editors

As every seasoned writer knows—and most aspiring writers discover in horror—completing a novel is only the beginning of the work.

Sometimes, it can take longer to rewrite a story than it took to write it in the first place.

And it doesn’t just happen once.

The writer’s initial round of rewrites—which hopefully includes story, character arcs, pacing, prose, copy editing, etc.—is followed by more rewrites based on the feedback from beta readers, agents, and freelance editors. And that’s before the grueling process of rewriting with your publisher’s editor.

Editing is hard work. That’s why it’s important to have realistic expectations and to enjoy the process.

Here are some words of wisdom, caution, advice, and experience from three of my editor friends.

Tom Monteleone – Bram Stoker Award winner for writing (BLOOD OF THE LAMBS), editing (BORDERLANDS anthologies), publishing (Borderland press), and lifetime achievement (!) – offers three potential weaknesses to watch out for during your editing process.

BAD DIALOGUE

“This is one of the most obvious flaws in a story because you can’t hide it, and it just kind of calls attention to itself like your shirt-tail sticking out of the unzipped fly in your pants.”

He suggests reading your dialogue aloud.

“Maybe for years . . . until you are certain you have developed a great ear for the way people really talk” and reading stage plays because “the dialogue in an effective play carries the plot, creates the characters, and controls the pacing.”

CLICHÉS

“All writers get lazy once in while and drop in a cliché or a shop-worn phrase . . . just to keep the narrative going. If you’re reading an otherwise good piece of fiction, just excise them like the tumors they are.”

STRUCTURE

Specifically, slow beginning, sagging middles, and unsatisfying endings.

“If the story starts digressing, adding subplots, too much backfill and flashback, it will lose energy and direction. This is the kind of writing that causes readers to put a story down, and “forget” to pick it back up again.”

I’ve suffered from this sort of forgetfulness while reading, and I definitely don’t want to cause it in others!

“There can be lots of reasons why an ending doesn’t work. A very common error is when the writer wraps things up too fast and too neatly. Another occurs when the ending just kind of fizzles out with people dying or disappearing and no real resolution is at hand.”

I’m with Tom. As a reader, it drives me nuts to have invested my time and emotion only to have a story unresolved or, worse, wrapped up like an after thought.

“Endings must resolve enough questions and problems to satisfy your audience’s need for (some kind) of order in the universe. A common error is to assume it had to be a SURPRISE! ending. Big mistake, that.”

And one I will take to heart!

Janice Gable Bashman, freelance editor and Bram Stoker Award nominated author of PREDATOR, adds these cautions to look out for in your manuscript.

OVERWRITING

Janice says that a common challenge is

“not trusting the reader to understand what is happening in a story. As a result, the author overwrites and explains more than is necessary.”

SHOWING AND TELLING THE SAME THING

“For example: Mary was cold (telling). Mary shivered, pulled up the collar of her fleece jacket, and shoved her hands into her pockets (showing).”

It’s astounding how often this happens. Seriously. Check your work and you’ll see what I mean. I sure did!

OVERUSE OF DIALOGUE TAGS

She recommends reducing the he said, she said monotony by interspersing dialogue with action.

“Use beats to indicate who is speaking wherever possible. Example: “Leave me alone!” Tony said. Revised: Tony slammed his fist on table. “Leave me alone.”

A great way to see if you’ve overused the tags is to read your dialogue aloud as if narrating an audiobook. If you start sounding like a tennis match, you’re in trouble. *wink*

EMOTIONAL JOURNEYS

“A novel is not about events that happen to a set of characters. It is about the events that happen and how the characters react and change as a result of those events.”

Great advice!

Lisa Kastner, owner and editor for Running Wild Press offers insight on submissions from an editor’s point of view, including some insight on why she chose my Life After Breath short story for RUNNING WILD ANTHOLOGY OF STORIES 2.

WHAT QUALITIES LEAD TO A PASS?

“The narrative is illogical or the characters aren’t believable.

The story has a clichéd climax or ending or plot point.

The story stays too long in a section such as a flashback or in description so it drags the story down. Although, this can easily be addressed through editing.

The story needs too much editing, meaning I can see this will take at least three rounds of concept edits before it’s ready.

The author hasn’t decided what the piece is. As an example, the author may have begun writing a mystery and then switched to a romance and then switched to a thriller (Yes, we’ve seen this). In this case, we’ll point out what section is a typical mystery opening, what section is more along the lines of romance, and then when it switches to a thriller structure and then we’ll suggest that they take a hard look at what they want the piece to be and revise based on that.”

WHAT QUALITIES LEAD TO ACCEPTANCE?

“When my team reviews submissions, they primarily look at voice and story. When the pieces get to me, then I’m looking for an engaging voice, a narrative (believe it or not, not all stories have narratives), solid writing, and an eye for craft.

For Life After Breath, the original version, I loved the strong voice and that it flipped from very cerebral and moody to action oriented. I loved that the first narrator realized that she could impact another’s life and chose to do so.”

“An invaluable lesson I had from some brilliant workshop leaders was that if the author can divide a room, then the piece is successful.”

Very encouraging!

WORKING WITH AN EDITOR

“When you get feedback from an editor, please remember that we want the author, the story, the press… everyone… to be successful.”

So there you have it my Mindful readers—insights on why some stories are accepted and declined and solid advice on how to make your stories and your writing the best it can be.

Thanks to my editor friends Tom Monteleone, Janice Gable Bashman, and Lisa Kastner for taking the time to share their wisdom.