Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Some More Book Recommendations

“When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose face we will never know will benefit from our action, as we who are downstream from another will profit from that grantor's gift.” 
-Maya Angelou

I have recently read a number of really thought-provoking, well-written books that I'd like to share. Two of them are fiction, two are non-fiction. All of them opened up new worlds to me and left me in a better place than I was before I read them. Books are one of my great pleasures and I can't imagine a time where I'm not in the midst of at least a couple. So here are some of my most recent finds:

Mink River by Brian Doyle. 

Wow, this book grabbed me, swept me up and left me wanting more. It takes place in a fictional Oregon coastline town filled with quirky, wonderful characters. There's a mixture of Native American and Irish cultures, and you quickly become involved in the lives of the people of Neawanaka. There's a sense of community and shared history amongst the inhabitants that makes one yearn for a slower life filled with deep connections. Everyone's stories are intertwined. There's also a wise crow named Moses and a bear that reads the New York Times. But what made Mink River so magical for me was the amazing language that spilled forth on the page. It's lyrical and poetic, and caused me to re-read more than a few passages. Here's an example. It's a passage that takes place between the man who only has 6 days left to live and the young boy Daniel (this is only part of a very long, delicious paragraph): 

These things matter to me, son. The way hawks huddle their shoulders angrily against hissing snow. Wrens whirring in the bare bones of bushes in winter. The way swallows and swifts veer and whirl and swim and slice and carve and curve and swerve. The way that frozen dew outlines every blade of grass. Salmonberries thimbleberries cloudberries snowberries elderberries salalberries gooseberries. My children learning to read. My wife’s voice velvet in my ear at night in the dark under the covers...

Treat yourself to Mink River; you won't regret it.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This is a first novel by an Alaskan woman whom I think we will be hearing more from. The Snow Child takes place in Alaska in the 1920's and focuses on a homesteading couple-Jack and Mabel.  Jack and Mabel are slowly drifting apart by a shared loss in their past, and the realities of living in Alaska. Their lives seem bleak and isolated.  One day, they glimpse a mystical little girl who seems to have arisen from the snow girl they built the day before. She brings hope and love back into their lives. Like Mink River, The Snow Child's language drew me in to a special place; it was such a perfect read for me on those dark January nights. I wouldn't say it's a summer read, but definitely put it on your list for next winter when you can settle in with it and a cup of hot tea. 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

This book should be mandatory reading for everyone in the United States. That may sound glib and overreaching, but it had a profound impact on me. To say it is eye opening is an understatement. It's a damning critique on the War on Drugs and shows how we have systematically targeted black men, incarcerating them for drug-related offenses, while whites have (for the most part) avoided this same fate. The results on communities of color are simply devastating.   The New Jim Crow will both educate and enrage you. We need to have open conversations about the War on Drugs (which is a failure) and the resulting criminal-justice policies. I learned things that were incredibly dismaying about how our system continues to perpetuate racism. Would it have been easier to have not read this book? Absolutely. But I much prefer having my eyes opened to this injustice that continuing on "colorblind."

The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp

"Grief, we understood, would now hijack a part of our day for the rest of our lives, sneaking in, making the world momentarily stop, every day, forever." 

I just finished The Still Point of the Turning World this afternoon and feel like I've spent time with a kindred spirit. Emily Rapp is a writer whose world was turned upside down with the diagnosis of Tay Sachs in her baby boy, Ronan. Tay Sachs is a rare, terminal disease that strikes babies and they don't survive past the age of three. In this book, Emily manages to write while dealing with the diagnosis. She finishes the book before her dear Ronan dies, although he died this past February. 

You might wonder if this is a book for bereaved parents only, and I would argue no. Rapp chronicles Ronan's life while also trying to understand and seek the overall meaning of life. She reminds us that we are all mortal, that we all will die eventually. She reminds us to live in the present:

"Planners, I decided, are about planning to be immortal, and we'll all assume that we'll get another day, another week, another year. It's part of how we pretend we won't die. But when you have lived with and cared for and loved a child who is actively dying (or at least dying more quickly than the rest of us are), you learn to live in the present moment."

I understand so much of what she writes. It is her struggle to make sense of Ronan's life, of her life and ultimately of all of our lives. It is raw and emotional, and reminded me of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. Rapp challenges us to find beauty in even the most difficult and painful of circumstances, and to appreciate life's fragility while living in it as boldly as possible. She doesn't want our pity, but instead dares us to live with more awareness and open hearts.

I hope you will feel free to share some books with me. And if you are buying books, please try and buy from your local independent bookstore! 

Friday, April 12, 2013


“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all - 
Emily Dickinson

Sunrise over Seattle last week.

Last week, I found myself in a few conversations that kept circling around and ultimately landing on the theme of hope. I always find it interesting when "themes" like this emerge in different contexts and with different people. It makes me take note and pay attention. Anyway, it got me thinking about hope and the role it plays in my life (and perhaps yours).

All of us have experienced feelings of hopefulness and conversely, hopelessness. Hopelessness can come about because of small annoyances such as a flat tire on the way to an important meeting, or missing a flight because you've misread the departure time or dropping and breaking a favorite heirloom bowl of your grandmother's. When these types of things happen we feel dismayed and a bit hopeless, even as we recognize how trivial they may be. Life takes a wrong turn and momentarily sets us off course.

But what about those big moments where hope seems to disappear altogether? For me, this happened when the ICU doctor brought us into a private room and, with tears silently falling down his face, told us that the care Matthew was receiving was "futile care." In that moment, hope flew out the window and stayed away for a long time. For others, it might be hearing the words "it's cancer," or "our marriage is over," or "you're fired." It might be a knock on the door late at night only to find a police officer on your porch. It might be a depression that has settled over you, unwelcome and unyielding. Most likely, all of us at some point will experience moments when life as you know it ceases to exist and you find yourself on a new path that seems dark, foreboding and hopeless. 

As anyone who has experienced these moments knows, it affects your ability to see beyond yourself and see a future. The hopes and dreams you once had are buried and it's enough to just get out of bed each day and face a world that has been undeniably changed. 

But one of the remarkable things about humans is that hope does reappear. It may not be for months or even years, but slowly something begins to emerge. It can be triggered by something as "ordinary" as a spectacular sunrise that takes your breath away. It can emerge by witnessing an especially poignant exchange between two people. It can surface by hearing the uncontained laughter of children or the cries of a newborn. Or it can just be that your broken heart feels lighter. Whatever it is, all of a sudden you find that the dark path you've been on begins to have a bit of light shed for you to find your way again. The days that used to stretch out interminably before you now seem shorter and more manageable. Tomorrow seems possible and today seems doable. You have hope again.

I can't pinpoint the exact moment when I felt the hopelessness begin to lift and I began to feel hopeful again. It was probably towards the end of that first year. But I did begin to feel my hopes rise again despite the deep loss our family had experienced. Old dreams gave way to new ones, and the path is becoming clearer. There may be setbacks and detours along the way, but at least hope helps me continue on the journey.

God put rainbows in the clouds so that each of us-in the dreariest and most dreaded moments-can see a possibility of hope.
Maya Angelou

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Things I'm grateful for this Spring

As long as the Earth can make a spring every year, I can. As long as the Earth can flower and produce nurturing fruit, I can, because I'm the Earth. I won't give up until the Earth gives up.

-Alice Walker

For the past few days I've been mulling over different ideas for a blog post and coming up a bit short. I have lots of thoughts swirling around, but nothing I feel like really fleshing out into a long post. So today's writing will be more of a rambling series of things I feel grateful for (in no particular order).

I'm Grateful for...


For me, each season ushers in hope and new possibilities. While winter is never the easiest season (mostly due to the darkness than anything else), I know that only by experiencing the dark can I truly appreciate the light. Just as I know that only by layering on clothes through the winter months, can I really savor the warmth of the sun on my skin in the summer. So when I see those crocuses popping their little heads up in the damp soil, or hear the chickadees singing their songs in the early morning, or hear the croaking of frogs at dusk, I know that we've made it through another winter. Spring has arrived and I find I am in a more hopeful place, and being in a more hopeful place makes my steps lighter on the journey.


The coinciding of Passover and Western Washington University's Spring break made it so that both my kids were able to come home for the Seder. For the first time since Matthew died, I felt ready to host a Seder, and thirteen of us gathered around our table to tell the age-old story. There is nothing like longtime friends sitting together with the ease that comes from years of friendship. As my friend Kellan said "The story and experience of Passover always reminds me how deep joy and sadness coexist, how we can't know one without the other, and I seem to relearn that same lesson anew every year, in a new and different way." This is so very true. As I looked across the table at the capable, young adults seated there-aged 19 to 25-I was struck by how quickly life passes by. Wasn't it just yesterday that we gathered for Seders where the kids could barely sit still long enough to get through the first cup of wine (or grape juice)? Now they are in college and beyond, setting out on their own journeys, no longer tied to ours. How did that happen? Where did the time go?

The "Kids"

The Meditation Challenge

The Deepak Chopra 21-Day Meditation Challenge was over on Sunday and it, as I had hoped, provided the necessary framework and "kick start" I needed to incorporate a daily practice of meditation into my life. From day one, I was hooked and found I looked forward to starting each day with a guided meditation from Deepak. Now, two days on my own, I find that I continue to want to begin my day this way so that I can start it refreshed and more balanced. It helps remind me to be grateful for what I do have and choose to live with an open-heart awareness. I hope I can keep it up.

A New Writing Group

I'm very excited to once again be a part of a writing group. This one is especially poignant in that it is made up of bereaved mothers, most of whom I have met since I have been on this journey. While we are all at different stages, we all feel like we have a story to tell. I so look forward to meeting with this amazing group of women twice a month (thank you Reba, Karen, Teri and Stefanie for being a part of my life). 

Co-facilitating a Grief Support Group

A couple of months ago, I began co-facilitating a grief support group that meets twice a month. I am not an expert by any means, but see myself as a companion to others who have experienced deep loss in their lives. I am so grateful to the participants who come together and I always walk away in awe of the courage and sheer moxie it takes to continue on in even the most difficult of circumstances. I feel I will learn much from everyone.

A Good Television Show

Okay, now for something more trivial. I admit that my husband and I love to have a good show going. Right now we are almost finished with the first (and only) season of Netflix's series House of Cards. It stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright and is totally diabolical, dark and addicting ;-). Before this, we watched and loved Downton Abbey. In the late fall we viewed the two seasons of Homeland (loved the first season, disappointed in the second), and in October watched (and loved!) all five seasons of The Wire (truly one of the best shows I have ever watched). If you have suggestions for our next show, please send them my way! We're going to need something new very soon.


For those of you who are on Facebook with me, you'll know that last week we lost our almost 16-year-old dog Edgar. He'd been with our family since he was eight weeks old, and was dearly beloved. Both Edgar and our other dog Sierra (who died last year) are the dogs of Matthew, Jordan and Aviva's childhoods, and they have many happy memories of them. I've noticed that many of my friends are now losing the pets they had when their children were young. It's that darn passage of time that can't be stopped.  However, lest you think our house is completely animal-free, you'll be interested to know that last August we picked up two kittens-Tikka and Mazzie. They are adorable, full of energy and the best of friends. I'm grateful for the cat energy that now fills our house these days.

Tikka and Mazzie in a rare moment of stillness

I've written before how I feel about baseball. So all I want to say right now is how hopeful I feel right now (one day into the season) as the Mariners stand at 1 and 0. That's all.
So these are a few of the things that have been rumbling around my brain. Quite honestly I could go on and on, but think that brevity is my friend in this case. I will write another blog post about some books I've been reading, as I love to pass along good reads. In the meantime, I hope that spring has made its way to your part of the world, if not the actual season then the sentiment. Namaste.