Showing posts with label RenaissanceWoman2010. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RenaissanceWoman2010. Show all posts

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Catching Dawn - Book Review

To what lengths would you go to keep a promise to a stranger?  To whom would you turn when fulfilling that promise proved to be beyond the scope of what you alone could do?

Catching Dawn starts as a rescue story that becomes a story, within a story, within a story.  There is the story of what it means to rewrite your own story as you do everything within your power to help the ones barely surviving.

And then there is the story of how the strays of the world find their belonging, their purpose, their peace.

Nested within those stories are the circular beginnings and endings where the lines blur between having rescued and having been the one most in need of saving.

When Melissa Armstrong is approached by a stranger about helping a litter of newborn puppies born to a dog living on the streets, she is quick to take on the mission.  After all, how hard could it be to gather up a nursing dog and her babies?

It turns out that a highly traumatized dog is one of the hardest things anyone could ever attempt to catch.  Six months of failures could have been the end of that story (and the end of those frail puppies).  Instead, this book reveals how both humans and animals in desperate need helped one another rise above those initial failures.

As a young girl, Armstrong grew up feeling there was something wrong with her that made her unlovable.  She felt out of place and knew great loneliness.  Her inner stray could relate to the fear and lack of trust displayed by dogs that felt a need to hide and avoid the kind of pain associated with people.

While going to great lengths to catch a dog that did not want to be caught, Armstrong simultaneously found herself catching the things that had proven so elusive during her earlier years: feeling loved, being needed, and discovering the embrace of a real family.

Having been immersed in challenging dog rescue scenarios, there was much that resonated for me in these embedded stories of transformation, friendship, and healing.  The writing revealed the beauty and wonder of the truest of relationships.  This book reminded me to never take for granted the many gifts offered up by my animals every single day.  It deepened my gratitude for how my rescue dogs have helped me rewrite my story.  

There are no small promises when lives are hanging in the balance.  There are no lengths too great when it comes to living out our promises.  Catching Dawn inspires us to be the promise needed in this world.





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Thursday, July 1, 2021

The Emptiness of Our Hands - Book Review

Who would you become if you were to suddenly find yourself without a home?  Some of you here know the answer to that question because you have lived it.  For the authors of The Emptiness of Our Hands, the answer was far beyond what they could ever have imagined.  Living the question forever changed who they were and who they continue to become to this day.

Choosing to live on the streets of Columbus, Ohio for 47 days may not seem earth-shattering, but for Phyllis Cole-Dai, and her photographer friend, James Murray, the experience was, in many ways, soul-shattering.  They found themselves immersed in an alternate universe offering up the kind of devastation that stripped bare their psyches and spirits.  After just two nights, Murray was already broken to pieces. 

The decision to go to the streets had not been made lightly or done as a stunt.  Cole-Dai felt a deep call she could not ignore.  Her intent was to offer up the gift of presence to everyone she met.  

So then what transpires when you suddenly find yourself in deep survival mode?  How are you transformed while living in a world ill at ease with the homeless... with you?  How do you cope with feeling invisible, despised, and less than human?  When constantly wrestling with intense fear, uncertainty, and struggle, what gives?  What sustains?  

How is it that something as simple as being seen can be such a consolation?  Nothing is inconsequential to the one in need of the kind of attention that shelters, or the haven to be found in the eyes of compassion.  To be seen like that is to receive an act of love.

As one with an outreach to those without a home, immersing myself within The Emptiness of Our Hands has reaffirmed for me the power of "thereness" (really being there for, and with, someone).  It has stirred a deep desire to be a very present haven to the one who might need to rest for a moment in my embracing presence.  

This book is for anyone who seeks to express the kind of humanity that feeds and shelters souls.  Just as there are many ways to experience homelessness, there are also many ways to be the kind of home presence needed by the displaced, the lost, or the lonely souls we encounter all around us.  

I also highly recommend the companion volume entitled Practicing Presence.  This compilation of 47 reflections (one from each of the author's 47 days on the streets) enables each of us to more fully develop and engage our mindfulness intentions.  I consider these two books the most important reading I have done all year.  






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Thursday, May 20, 2021

DIY Cat Bed Fit for a Queen

 


The ruler of my household happens to be a cat of a certain age known as Miz Grizz.  She is The Queen, and as such, deserves royal treatment.  I noticed that Her Royal Highness is quite fond of the reimagined drawer beds I made for Gracie and Minnie (two Kingdom of Grizz subjects).  The time has come to honor Her Majesty with a cat bed fit for a queen.


I still had a drawer left over from my first foray into creating upcycled pet beds, so I claimed it for this project.  As I looked around the house for additional inspiration, and potential supplies, a theme quickly presented itself.  One of the first items I found was a metal honeycomb that I decided to use as a stencil for the sides and back of the bed.  Now that I knew I was going with a queen bee motif, it was time to get started.  First, I removed the drawer's hardware.  Then, I sanded all of the surfaces to prep for painting (and filled holes).  


Next, I primed everything with spray paint.  On the outside of the drawer, I used Rust-Oleum Chiffon Cream Chalked Paint.  The drawer's inside surfaces were painted with Rust-Oleum Metallic Gold.  Choosing to go with a metallic finish provided an unexpected, and very appealing, outcome.  How I love the way the underlying wood grain is highlighted by the shimmery play of light.




Following the application of the first coats of paint, I used the metal honeycomb sheet to overlay the creamy background with metallic hints of ongoing hive activity.  While working to evoke this effect, an additional idea came to mind.  If I modified the metal sheet for use on the front of the Queen's new bed, it could frame a name plate.


That is when I began to envision another feature: an acid-etched brass bee emblem.  Though I had recently experimented with etching copper, I wasn't sure if the same method would work with other metals.  I discovered that the technique worked perfectly with brass.  My new etching became the centerpiece of The Queen's nameplate.


In keeping with the bee theme, I used decorative jelly jars (think royal jelly) for the legs of the bed.  It was just a matter of painting the jars and then attaching the lids to the bottom of the drawer.


Finally, I added a luxurious faux fur mattress fit for a queen.  Miz Grizz works hard keeping everyone in line and has more than earned an extra measure of comfort.  I hope Her Majesty is pleased with my humble offering.  Though it is a small gift, it was made with great love.  She is the Queen of My Heart.





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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Stitching Wood With Copper Wire - Part One


For those who see beauty in imperfection, wood stitching is an appealing art form.  When I recently found a cracked tabletop, my first inclination was to replace it with something less damaged.  However, as I further considered the nature of this wood piece, I realized it was the crack that gave the table its real character.  

As Leonard Cohen expressed in his song "Anthem," forget your perfect offering, there is a crack, a crack in everything.  So, I thought, why not highlight rather than hide the flaw?  The flaw is the offering... is the song.

I had never attempted to stitch wood with copper wire before today, but I've been wanting to try this technique.  I am learning through trial and error what works.  I'll share my process here and a few tips.

First, I didn't care for the glossy wood finish, or the cheap look of the table itself.  Sanding alone did not fix that.  Torching everything took care of it.  It's a method known as Shou Sugi Ban.  Fire is a sure way of taking something lacking a wow factor and making it instantly memorable.




After charring the tabletop, I drilled holes in preparation for the wire stitching.  Using my butane torch, I burned the wood inside and around the holes (so the raw wood wouldn't show).


Using a steel block and hammer, I flattened the copper wire.  The copper looks better when it lies flush with the wood surface.


Now, I am experimenting with lacing patterns.  The trick, it seems, is to double back and bring two stitches up through a single hole.  I have discovered that the wire has to be carefully handled after being pounded flat.  A few pieces of wire have snapped in half when I started stitching the wood.  Lesson learned.  (And I have gone back and sanded down the indentations left by the drill around the holes pictured above.)

I am intrigued, so far, with my project.  The uniqueness of what is being created from something others might consider broken is what draws me to this work in progress.  This table is reminding me that there is beauty to be found in brokenness.  The crack is where the light gets in.

Stay tuned for the part two final reveal.  I can't wait to see it myself, as these kinds of projects tend to take on a life of their own.  I never know ahead of time just where the wood and other elements will lead me.  It's the adventure of it all that keeps me coming back for more.





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Thursday, April 15, 2021

How to Etch Copper - DIY Review

 


Have you ever found yourself admiring a gorgeous piece of etched copper jewelry?  I know I have.  A few months back I decided I wanted to learn how to create my own custom copper gifts.  As a maker, I crave opportunities to pursue new avenues of artistic expression.  

After exploring various techniques for etching copper, I chose to try a method that appeared to be one of the very best for beginners.  Having just experienced a successful first experiment, I wanted to share the process for the benefit of other aspiring copper artisans.  Here's a list of the supplies you will need:

  1. Small sheet of copper (or copper blank).
  2. Ferric chloride (I used Radio Shack PCB Etchant Solution).
  3. Rubber stamp (a link to the bee stamp featured here).
  4. Ink pad (I prefer the StazOn Solvent Ink Pad).
  5. Black permanent marker.
  6. Clear shipping tape.
  7. Two small plastic containers.
  8. Water.
  9. Baking soda.
  10. Chemical-resistant gloves.
  11. Eye protection.
  12. Brillo pad.
  13. Fine steel wool.

Step One
: Prep the copper.  It must be clear of fingerprints, tarnish, etc., to make a good etching.  I used fine steel wool to clean up my copper blank.  You will want to wear gloves during this step (to ensure you don't leave prints on the surface of the metal).



Step Two
: Select your design and transfer it to the copper (either freehand using a fine permanent marker, or with the use of a rubber stamp).  Allow adequate time for the ink to fully dry.

Step Three: Using a permanent marker, completely ink over the back of the copper blank (and the side edges).  Anything that is not protected with an ink resist will etch.  Once the ink has dried, overlay it with clear packing tape.  Then, tape a piece of styrofoam to the back side of the copper ( to help it float and to provide you with a handle for safely lifting the copper out of the etching acid).



Step Four
: In a well ventilated area (outdoors is best), pour an inch or so of the ferric chloride solution into a shallow plastic container (wearing chemical protective gloves and eye protection).  Carefully set your copper (design side down) on the surface of the etching solution.  You want it to float on the surface.

Step Five: Depending on how pronounced you want your etched design to be, you will leave the copper in the etchant solution for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.  Gently stir the solution every 15 minutes.  I went the full hour for my etching and was really pleased with the result.


Step Six
: In a clean plastic container, mix warm water with two tablespoons of baking soda (I used about a cup and a half of water).  Wearing protective gear, carefully remove the copper from the acid solution and gently set it into the water bath.  It will start bubbling as the acid is neutralized by the baking soda.  This step takes less than five minutes.



Step Seven
: Remove the copper from the soda bath and rinse with clean water.  When dry remove the packing tape from the back side.



Step Eight
: Using a Brillo pad, rub off the ink residue on both sides of the copper.  

Step Nine: Use fine steel wool to brighten up the copper and reduce minor scratches.

Step Ten: You may wish to apply an optional patina to the copper and/or a protective seal coat to keep the copper from tarnishing.  Some copper artisans like the darker antique look achieved using liver of sulphur.  


As you can see, with the right supplies and just a few hours of effort, it is fairly easy to produce a very satisfying result.  I am pleased with this copper etching method and will most definitely take it to the next level with a more advanced project.

If this has stirred an urge to create something unique, you may be interested in my article about painting on copper with fire.  No matter what you decide to do, the important thing is to find your own outlet for creative expression.  There is so much beauty just waiting to be released into the universe.  Let the beauty of who you are be what you release into the world.






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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Where the Blind Horse Sings - Book Review

To be in a place of sanctuary is a true blessing.  To be the sanctuary that another individual needs, whether human or animal, is one of the greatest privileges in life.  To know beautiful beings who have helped transform others, and themselves in the process, is often the impetus for ordinary people to become extraordinary instigators of deep community, deep healing, deep peace, and deep joy.

Reading about Kathy Stevens, and her Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS), was more than enough to convince me that sanctuary is something that rescue animals gift to their extended human family.  Through a series of moving vignettes, Stevens illustrates the often unexpected intelligences (including emotional intelligence) that farm animals possess and use in relationship with one another and their humans.  

Who knew that an ornery, previously mean cockfighting rooster could come to crave human contact (eventually choosing to sleep in bed with his rescuer)?  Paulie knew.

And what gives with Rambo (a former sheep terrorist known for inflicting bruises on the unsuspecting)?  When and how did he become the early alert system for animals in peril?  Was this altruism in action?

You will meet a fire survivor (Dino the pony), a duck afraid of water (Petri), a goat found wandering in Manhattan (Oliver), and a blind horse afraid to move even one inch (Buddy).  There will be pigs, cows, rabbits, and a yellow lab named Murphy.

Mostly, there will be love—the kind of love that enables animals and people to live in harmony with those much different from themselves (at least on the surface).  

Where the Blind Horse Sings is a call to compassion.  It will speak to anyone who wishes to offer up sanctuary as her gift to the world.  

Reading this may change the way you see animals and your relationship with them.  It is likely to cause reflection about the sensitivities, the emotions, and the personalities of animals.  

Finally, for anyone at a crossroads in life, just as Stevens was before launching Catskill Animal Sanctuary, this book may raise the following questions: What do you love?  What do you do best?  What do you believe in?  What makes your heart sing?

Learning to move forward without fear made Buddy's spirit sing.  His story brought me to tears.  It also inspired me to move beyond those things that stood between me and my song.









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Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Moonlight Child - Book Review

 

Things just aren't adding up.  Late one night, while out on her patio watching a lunar eclipse, Sharon spies what appears to be a very small child washing dishes in the kitchen of the house across her back yard fence.  How can that be?  The neighbors don't have a child that young.  And even if they did, why would she be doing dishes hours past her bedtime?  

Perhaps it is nothing, but what if it isn't?  Sharon Lemke finds herself wondering if her imagination is merely running wild.  Soon, though, when Niki, an eighteen-year-old who has recently aged out of the foster care system comes to live with her, Sharon's concerns become shared.  

As it has been said, it takes one to know one, and Niki knows plenty about what it means to be endangered.  The clues are pinging Niki's internal radar system.  She isn't willing to leave things to chance if there is a child who may be at risk.  

Though Sharon has followed proper channels (notifying the appropriate social services authorities about the unusual circumstance next door), bureaucratic wheels often turn much too slowly for those fearing the worst.

Niki and Sharon decide to take matters into their own hands.  Can they pull off a clandestine investigation without endangering themselves or others?  Is there something sinister at play here? What will happen if they are caught in the act of spying on neighbors who may not be what they outwardly appear to be?  

For me, an exceptional book is one that makes me care.  I was all in shortly after being introduced to Sharon, Niki, Mia, Jacob, and Griswold.  There was so much to love about the redemptive moments.  Of course, there are individuals you will likely despise.  Every powerful story needs that counterbalance.  

I came away from this read thinking about the people who pay attention when they feel something isn't right.  Not only that, I reflected on the difference between those who act on their intuition and those who do not.  This story drove home for me the necessity of being a noticer who actually does something for the lost and the unseen individuals of the world.

I highly recommend The Moonlight Child by Karen McQuestion.  








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Thursday, February 4, 2021

Six Weeks To Live - Book Review

Imagine going into a routine doctor's appointment and learning you have six weeks to live.  For most of us, that would be the worst news ever.  Though it is an unexpected and terrible diagnosis for forty-eight-year-old Jennifer Barnes, the real shock is yet to come.  

To cope with an anonymous, random killer like brain cancer is hard enough.  To suspect that the real killer is someone she once loved, makes everything that much more devastating.  With the end so near, will there be time to discover the truth?  

Catherine McKenzie's upcoming release, Six Weeks To Live, is stunning suspense that explores how family secrets, deception, and revenge is a cancer far more potent than glioblastoma.

Jennifer's family members doubt her sanity.  Surely, the brain cancer is warping her mind.  One would have to be losing it to believe her husband, the father of her children, could do something as diabolical as poisoning her.  It's crazy.  Or is it?

There is plenty of motive.  Jennifer's estranged husband has been relentlessly hammering her for a divorce, which she refuses to give him.  He and his new girlfriend are harboring a secret, which is more than reason enough to want to knock off the wife standing in the way of their happily ever after.  

Dare we hope Jennifer's grown girls, a complex set of triplets, might come on board to help her track down an explanation for mysterious lab results predating her terminal diagnosis?  Isn't it the least a mother can expect when things turn dire?  If only family dynamics and relationships were that easy.  

Time is very quickly running out.  Who, or what, will win in the end?  Can there even be a win in this situation?  

Six Weeks To Live is the best novel I have read all year.  You will want to pre-order your copy now.  It releases on May 4, 2021.  I received a digital galley from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  My sincere thanks to the publisher, Atria Books, and the author, Catherine McKenzie, for this deeply satisfying reading experience.  












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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Breath - Book Review

Dear Nose,

I am so sorry.  I didn't realize how much I was taking you for granted.  I should have appreciated you more.  Now that I finally know how much I need you—how much you mean to me—I hope it is not too late to make a new start.  Will you forgive me?  I promise to make it up to you.

Love, Me

Yeah.  So okay.  That was long overdue.  It wasn't until I read Breath, by James Nestor, that I discovered the error of my ways.  It's like missing a truth that is staring you right in the face.  How is it that we miss the things that are right in front of us every day?

I must say Breath is, by far, one of the most stunning books I have ever read.  As a lifelong athlete, and former coach, I thought I knew quite a bit about proper breathing.  Wrong!  

This book was a journey of discovery... a revelation.  After the first few pages, I lost count of the epiphanies I was having—or that were having me.  The author had me at this:

the greatest indicator of life span wasn't genetics, diet, or the amount of daily exercise, as many had suspected.  It was lung capacity.

And, it turns out, we can increase our lung capacity by 30-40 percent just by knowing how to breathe right.  If that is the case, why wouldn't we want to learn how to do so?  Who doesn't want to live longer and with greater wellness?

This book blends the author's personal quest to find solutions to his own health crises while seeking out other "pulmonauts" who are finding new, and old, ways of helping their patients address any number of serious medical conditions: immune disorders, high blood pressure, weight challenges, anxiety, asthma, sleep apnea, dental issues, and so much more.

We learn that 90 percent of us do not breathe correctly.  Also, those who are least healthy among us are overbreathing.  Overbreathing?  Did we ever imagine too much breathing could be bad?  Or that too little carbon dioxide was harming us?  How much is too much or too little?  What is the right amount?  How do we achieve that balance?  What is the proper breathing rhythm?  How can we attain that?

And then there is mouthbreathing vs. nosebreathing.  The negatives of mouthbreathing, as illustrated by the author's own clinical experimentation, should be more than enough to make every single one of us avoid it like the plague.  Who knew just how bad the effects could be?   

But wait, there's more: left nostril vs. right nostril breathing.  Ever thought about that?  No?  Neither had I.  Breathe through the left, lower body temperature and blood pressure—reduce anxiety.  Breathe through the right, speed up circulation, heat up your body, and increase your heart rate.  

Which brings us to this: What is the deal about the erectile tissue in the nose?  Um, I'll let you read about that for yourself.  That was probably my first big shock while reading Breath.

There is so much more that will astound you when you read Breath.  This book is filled with wonder.  It left me with a completely new sense of awe for my body and how everything is so intricately, and beautifully, connected to my breathing.  I gained renewed hope in discovering just how resilient and malleable our organs, and vital systems, can be when we know how to take simple health-reversing actions.

Throughout my life, whenever asked what part of my body I disliked the most, I always said it was my nose.  I'll never feel that way again after learning the truth about the magnificence of my nose.  It is so much more than the first line of defense against the invaders that would cause me harm.  I have gained such a tremendous respect and appreciation for what my nose does for me every second of every day.

In a single breath, more molecules of air will pass through your nose than all the grains of sand on all the world's beaches—trillions and trillions of them.  As they make their way toward you, they'll twist and spool like the stars in a Van Gogh sky...

There is something to be gained by everyone who delves into the mystery we call breathing.  Every 3.3 seconds we have the opportunity for transformation.  Breathe it in... and be the brilliance of that Van Gogh sky.




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Thursday, November 5, 2020

Hiking Naked - Book Review

 

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Are you taking a leave of absence
She whispered her question as if I were planning a prison escape.

No.  What Iris had in mind did involve absence, but truly, it was more about arriving back at presence.  In Hiking Naked, Iris Graville takes us along on her journey of stripping life down to what is most essential.  This is a book about reclaiming your joys.

If ever there was a time to plan a prison escape, surely it would be now.  Just as Iris felt imprisoned by the burnout of years in the public health field, who among us is not wishing for an escape from the weariness of daily crisis... from the pandemic stress in which we are engulfed?

For me, being immersed in the author's sojourn to a place far removed from constant bombardment was not only a much-needed respite, but also a knowing, as Graville put it, of "the riches of attending to what's truly important."

Anyone who has ever fantasized about moving to a remote haven far from the madding crowd will relish this account of Graville's time spent in Stehekin (a Native word meaning a way through), Washington.  As Iris ferries us via her writing to this uplake North Cascades paradise, we discover ourselves in a place any lover of Northern Exposure would find intriguing and refreshing.  

Imagine living without TV, phones, freeways, or frenzy.  Think what it would be like to mail-order your groceries (and have a stranger named Alice select your food items for you).

Envision a time of reading, writing, hiking, and just being.  Wrap your mind around days filled with art, bread-baking, letter-writing, laundry-hanging, and journaling about the desires of your heart.

In the process of becoming "Stehekinized," Graville found her own way through the tumult of both internal and external fires and floods.  As she sought balance, and let Stehekin live within her, Iris found the path to what was next.

I highly recommend this book to anyone searching for clarity, for renewal, for a clear sense of calling, for a return to the essence of life.  Here's to finding your own Stehekin.  May the way through be a journey to joy.





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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Citizens of Campbell - Book Review

Have you ever loved a book so much you wish you had been written into it?  That is the feeling I came away with after reading Citizens of Campbell.  Ann Reed's debut novel felt, in many ways, like a story I had already inhabited while growing up in small town America.  More than anything, this was a homecoming for me.

The heart of this novel is the bond between two quietly heroic men—Earl Johansen and Nearly "Walking Elk" Kelly.  One is a hero for saving a man's life; the other for simply being who he is—a good and decent man.  

I'm sure Earl and Nearly would be surprised to find themselves between the covers of a book.  I imagine Earl would be a little embarrassed and Nearly secretly delighted.  The dailiness of their lives, to them, wouldn't seem worthy of mention, but they would be wrong.

Citizens of Campbell reveals the soul of what it means to be essential to someone else.

Ann Reed, the author, is an extremely gifted singer/songwriter.  More than writing the story of Campbell, Iowa, and its citizens, she has sung it.  The song is an anthem all kindred spirits will recognize.  You will feel the chords, the true notes that are the music of living simply and beautifully alongside, and in concert with, your chosen family.

Highly recommended.




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Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Book of Two Ways - A Review

Pre-order Your Copy Now
Your plane is about to crash.  As your life, your hopes, your dreams, your frantic thoughts plunge out of the sky, what is it—who is it—you fix upon?  For the passenger in seat 12C, surprisingly, it wasn’t her beloved husband, Brian, or her much-adored daughter, Meret, that came to mind.  No, it was Wyatt who streaked across her consciousness.

Dawn Edelstein survives that crash.  In the aftermath of having had those life-flashing-before-her-eyes moments, the airline offers her a flight to anywhere she needs to go.  She should go home, but where is home?  Is it the home she knows now, or the home she once found in the man she loved so many years ago?  

The Book of Two Ways, by Jodi Picoult, is a book of what ifs, a book of parallel universes, a book of diverging and converging pathways.  It is a book that explores what might have been even as one is living the what is.

Before Dawn got the call that her mother was dying of cancer, she was deeply, passionately in love with her life as an Egyptologist graduate student working on a dissertation delving into The Book of Two Ways.  That book was the Egyptian's map to the afterlife.  There were two pathways one could follow on the journey to the next plane.  

When Dawn was faced with the decision no daughter wishes to face, she chose to leave behind her much-anticipated life of the mind, in academia, and life of the heart, with Wyatt Armstrong, the man with whom she shared the exhilaration of discovery.  Together, they had burned bright with promise.

As things come to pass, Dawn’s season of maternal care-giving leads her to a new career as a death doula—one who helps those on their end-of-life journeys.  She meets, and marries, Brian Edelstein,  a physicist.  Their life is unfolding rather predictably until Dawn’s moment of reckoning on that plummeting aircraft.

Dawn accepts that free ticket to anywhere from the airline.  Her destination?  Egypt.  Wyatt.  Her unresolved past.

How will this decision impact her future, her marriage, Wyatt, her relationship with her child, her trajectory through life?  No spoilers here.  You will want to read The Book of Two Ways to learn how things resolve themselves (or not).  

I have always found Jodi Picoult’s books to be compelling.  She is an extremely gifted writer who always takes her readers on journeys that matter.  This book was one of my most anticipated reads of 2020.  I was elated when approved to review an ARC ahead of the September 22nd release of this publication.

My enthusiastic interest in The Book of Two Ways had to do with my current explorations into becoming an end-of-life doula.  It comes as no surprise that the chapters dealing with Dawn’s interactions with those in the process of transitioning from this life were my favorite chapters.  

Though I have long found Egyptian life quite fascinating, I felt a bit mired in the denser sections of this book (and I typically enjoy the challenge of great depth).  That said, I greatly admire the intense research and explorations that went into birthing this highly ambitious novel.  I’m glad I read this book and do encourage you to let it take you on what it is sure to be a very reflective journey.  This book is meaty and will require something from you.

If you, like me, have ever pondered the what-ifs of your life choices, you are sure to come away from this read with the kinds of insights that will enrich your current pathway.  I have no doubt this book will come to mind the next time I am standing at a crossroads.  

I wish to thank Jodi Picoult and her publishing company, Random House, for this opportunity to read The Book of Two Ways in return for an honest review.



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Thursday, August 20, 2020

Blind Your Ponies - Book Review

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93 losses.  Zero wins.  Pretty much everyone in Willow Creek, Montana has known the agony of defeat.  This is a one-horse town where few imagined ending up and even fewer meant to stay.

The thing is, magic happens—even in those outposts that have known more than their share of dashed hopes—especially in those bleak has-been places where glory is just a word in the dictionary.  Everyone in Willow Creek is there for a reason.  And it is in how those reasons come together, in one fairytale basketball season, that we come to love, and cheer on, this ragtag group of misfits.

Some books just grab you by the heart and never let go.  This is one of those books.  Blind Your Ponies is about never giving up.  It is about finding love in the midst of loss.  It is about the transformative power of grief, and healing, and believing when it seems crazy to believe.  It is ultimately a book about letting in the things that can lift you past the point of hopelessness and despair.

Who is this cast of characters that will cause us to cheer until we are hoarse?  There is Sam Pickett.  English teacher and "losingest" basketball coach ever.  This is a man who has experienced the worst that can happen to someone he loved.  He is a crushed soul who will be lifted by the young boys who would go to any length for their beloved coach.

Which brings us to the boys on the team.  Dean, Pete, Olaf, Tom, Rob, and Curtis.  These young men have known deprivation, the feeling of not being good enough, the doubt that comes from being tossed away by those who were supposed to love them most. 

There has never been a group less destined to succeed on the basketball court, unless, of course, you can see into their hearts.  They will come together, by the sheer power of heart, to achieve the unimaginable.  In that unlikely march to claiming what was theirs all along, we will come to know what it means to give everything you are to become everything you can be. 

You don't have to love basketball, coaching, teaching, or mentoring young people to get caught up in this story.  But, if you, like me, have ever had the great privilege of being involved in those high callings, it will be impossible not to embrace this book with that part of you that has known, and nurtured, a Dean, a Pete, an Olaf, Tom, Rob, or Curtis.  Once you have experienced the immense joy of helping shape a child's life, you are forever a part of the greatest enterprise on earth. 

Blind Your Ponies will move you in ways you didn't even know you needed to be moved.  If you have loved movies like Hoosiers, Rocky, or Rudy, you are sure to be lifted by the spirit of this inspirational book.  Highly recommended.  Five stars.
















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Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Garden of Small Beginnings - Book Review

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Let's start with the harvest here.  Lest you think this is going to be a book about a widow who has had a breakdown after her husband's untimely and tragic death, and who is still struggling with that loss, let me assure you that this is a book where the reader reaps joy.  I found The Garden of Small Beginnings, by Abbi Waxman, to be a brilliantly written, and delightfully humorous, take on how we get through the gritty times in life.

It's not often that a book begins with whale genitalia.  This is when you know this is not going to be your grandmother's gardening guide.  No... not at all.  This is where the irreverent humor and quirky cast of characters begin to emerge.  

You see, Lilian Girvan is a textbook illustrator.  And sometimes, though perhaps not every day, you are called upon to draw things like a whale's, ahem, penis.  Am I allowed to use the word penis in a book review?  This is surely a first for this reviewer.  

Anyway, getting back to Lilian.  On the day of her infamous illustrating assignment, she is called up to meet with her boss.  Lilian has been assigned a plum project designing the illustrations for a series of vegetable guides.  In order to garner favor with an important client, Lilian has been volunteered to take a Saturday morning gardening class at the Los Angeles Botanical Garden.  This is where the plot (literally) thickens.

Over the course of six weeks, lives will be changed in beautiful and unexpected ways by an eclectic crew of aspiring gardeners.  Though this is not a gardening book, per se, it is a book about how we grow from loss, and grief, and other heartbreaks into who we will become in the next season of life.

I loved this book's characters and witty banter.  Lilian's young children are sheer delight.  This is my favorite kind of read: so well-written, clever, funny, and full of heart.  Highly recommended.





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Thursday, July 30, 2020

DIY Copper Bookmark - Painting With Fire

DIY Copper Bookmark

I have always been a maker.  At the moment, I find myself fascinated with copper as canvas. There is something entirely mesmerizing about painting with fire on copper.  Over the past few days, I have experimented with the creation of copper bookmarks.  I'd like to share the process for those who might enjoy giving this a try.

You can do so much with copper, but I am focusing, right now, on hammered, stamped, and annealed copper.  I call the annealing of my pieces "painting with fire."  It is my absolute favorite part of this project.  When you take a torch to copper, you never know exactly how the finished piece will look.  I am always delighted to see the surprising effects of heat on my metal works of art.

My M.O. (modus operandi) happens to be the repurposing of materials.  I love nothing more than to bring new life to those things that have unseen, or unused, potential.  In this case, I was fortunate enough to reclaim some small copper sheets that were the remnants of a solar installation.  Though the metal was scratched and tarnished, with irregular edges, I knew it held great promise, and a beauty to be found when its true colors were revealed.  These are the steps I took to transform the copper.

Step One: Cutting the Copper
I first considered using a hacksaw to cut the copper sheets into bookmark-sized pieces.  After trying that, I decided it would be much faster and easier to use my Dremel Saw-Max with the metal cut-off wheel.  That worked perfectly.  The important thing was to protect the surface of the copper using painter's tape.

Cutting the Copper Using Dremel Saw-Max

Step Two: Filing the Rough Edges
After cutting the copper, the edges needed to be deburred to remove the sharp slivers of metal.  I used a round file for this step.

Filing the Metal Burrs

Step Three: Rounding the Corners
Because the corners of the bookmark were sharp, the next step was to use my Dremel rotary tool, with a sanding bit, to gently round off those points.

Rounding the Corners Using Dremel Rotary Tool

Step Four: Cleaning the Copper Surface
Before heating the copper, I needed to clean off the surface tarnish, fingerprints, etc.  The simple way to do this is with fine steel wool (00 grade) and a little elbow grease.  When I was done, the copper was nice and shiny (see the center image below).  I chose to leave some of the character marks (a few nicks and minor scratches).  My work is not meant to have a machined look.  I want it to be wabi-sabi (where the imperfection is the beauty).

From Tarnished to Bright, Shiny Copper

Step Five: Painting With Fire
I love this step!  My bookmark blank is now laid on a moist sand mound.  I place the front side of the bookmark facing down (because that is the side of the copper that will have the most colorful effect after I torch the back side).  I use a mini butane torch to paint (anneal) the copper.  Basically, I just heat the metal until it begins to turn vibrant purple, blue, and fuschia colors.  The possibilities are endless and no two "paintings" are ever the same.

Butane Mini Torch and Fuel

Painting With Fire - Torching the Copper Blank

Newly Torched Copper Bookmark

The Infinite Variety of Fire-Painted Copper Bookmarks

Step Six: Water Bath
Using a forceps, I then plunge the hot metal into a cool water bath.  Next, I pat dry the copper with a soft cloth.  (It's also important to wear clean, soft gloves so you don't mar the metal surface with fingerprints, etc.)

Cooling the Torched Copper in a Water Bath
Step Seven: Stamping the Bookmark
At this point, I used metal stamps (Impress Art uppercase alphabet set) to imprint a message on the front of the bookmark.  This is the hardest part of the process.  Getting the spacing and impressions right can be extremely challenging.  I had to leave the perfectionist in me out of the equation and just go for it.  What will be, will be!  And that is okay.  It is the charm of handmade art.

Stamped Copper - Rumi Quotation


Step Eight: Edging the Bookmark
Depending on the look you want, you can leave the edges of the bookmark plain, but I wanted a hammered copper look.  This is where I used a ball-peen hammer to make some shallow depressions all around the perimeter of the piece.

Creating Hammered Copper Edge Using Ball-Peen Hammer

Step Nine: Finishing the Piece
I used a tiny bit in my Dremel rotary tool to drill a hole in the end of the bookmark (for attaching a chain and embellishments).  Next, I applied a finish wax (a natural carnauba wax) to protect the surface from fingerprints, tarnish, etc.  Finally, I chose a pair of wing charms to be a whimsical play on my chosen sentiment.

Finished Copper Bookmark

Your acts of kindness are iridescent wings of divine love,
Which linger and continue to uplift others
Long after your sharing.  ~Rumi

I may consider creating a few custom bookmarks for my Etsy store.  Most likely, though, these pieces will be offered as gifts because they are truly a labor of love.







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Thursday, July 16, 2020

National Lost Pet Prevention Month

Fenway Bolted Due to Frightening Gunshots

Count off two seconds with me.  One, one thousand.  Two, one thousand.  Stop.  Someone has just lost a beloved pet.  Again: One, one thousand.  Two, one thousand.  Another fur baby is missing.

This happens every day, every two seconds.  If you add it up, that is 30 missing pets per minute, 1800 per hour, and 43,200 per day.  I did the math.  That comes out to over 15 million missing pets each year.  For anyone who cannot imagine a life without animals, that is a horrifying number.

I hate to tell you this, but it gets worse.  Only 1 in 10 of those lost animals will return home.

Blessing Escaped From a Vehicle - She Has Not Been Found

Though one might be able to set aside cold, hard numbers, it is much more difficult to forget the names and faces of the missing.  Likewise, the desolation of not knowing the fate of a pet is the kind of thing that haunts a pet parent forever.

Given these statistics, it seems clear that more needs to be done to significantly reduce the number of animals that go missing, and more needs to happen to successfully reunite the lost with their loved ones.  It is no coincidence that July is National Lost Pet Prevention Month.  Over the 4th of July holiday, animal intakes in shelters across the nation increase by 80 percent.  No doubt, much of that has to do with the terrifying nature of fireworks, and how extreme distress causes so many animals to bolt in sheer panic.

Why do pets become lost?  What happens to missing pets?  Why are some found, while others seemingly disappear into thin air?  What makes the difference in giving these lost animals a better chance of being reunited with their families?

Pets become lost for any number of reasons.  They can bolt when scared or when involved in an accident (like Jade in Yellowstone National Park), escape when given the opportunity (an open gate or door), go looking for love (if not spayed or neutered), take off during a hike in the woods (in pursuit of a wild animal), become disoriented, or upset, after a move to a new home (and go looking for the familiarity of a former life), jump out of a vehicle, dig under a fence, get snatched while unattended, and so much more.

Harley Went Missing During a Move
She Was Found Eight Miles From Her New Home

What happens to your missing pet?  Many different scenarios can unfold depending on the animal's physical condition and age, her confidence and personality, familiarity with the territory, weather conditions, proximity to helpers (remote area vs. urban area), and actions taken by those responsible for finding her.

Some animals are found, but have no identification tag or microchip.  The finder doesn't know who to contact to return the pet.  That dog or cat may end up being kept by the finder, or adopted out by an animal rescue organization.  This is one reason why it is so important to notify regional shelters and online lost pet forums.  Highly visible, and widely distributed, lost pet signs are also critical in these cases.  Harley was reunited with her family last week because the finder saw her posted in a lost pet group on Facebook.

A dog missing for three weeks was found just yesterday thanks to a lost dog sign that was seen by an individual who sighted a dog dragging a leash.  Despite being lost in a major city, Coco had evaded searchers for 21 days, and was found hiding in a field one mile from where she bolted.  She ran in fear from an outside seating area at a coffee shop due to an unexpectedly loud crashing noise.  Her leash had been wrapped around the leg of a chair while her owner was picking up an order.  Just like that Coco was gone.  Never leave your dog unattended.

Coco is a Real Flight Risk

Pets riding in cars should always be restrained.  This can be done with a travel crate, a harness system that hooks into a seatbelt, or similar safety features.  Blessing escaped from a vehicle because she was not adequately secured.  Always, always secure your pet in a vehicle.  Some dogs are able to lower car windows by standing on the power window buttons (Blessing was one of those dogs).  That provides a vehicle escape route.  Be sure to activate the child safety locks in your car when traveling with pets.

Our organization microchips every animal adopted from our shelter.  It is not unusual for a pet to get away from a new owner.  Keeping your pet's chip registered and updated with current contact information is essential.

If you take your dog hiking or camping in remote areas, you might consider outfitting him with a GPS tracker collar.  Out in the wilderness, this could save his life.  It is also a good idea if you have a dog that has gotten away from you before, or that tends to be easily frightened.  A skittish dog on the run can be harder to find given the tendency toward evasion.

Some final tips: Be aware of your pet's body language.  Pay attention to the behavioral, and environmental, cues that may alert you to a potential escape.  Have a plan in place for how you will respond should one of your pets go missing.  Read up on the essentials of how to find a missing animal.  Even if your pet is primarily an indoor animal, always ensure that she is wearing a collar and identification tag.

It is said an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Given the estimate that 1 in 3 pets will go missing over their lifetimes, now is the time to ensure your precious companion will not become one of those sad statistics.

It takes all of us together to ensure the safety of the beloved animals that count on us and that enrich our lives beyond measure.  Please consider supporting our new Lost Pet Search and Rescue Initiative.  Given the epidemic of lost pets, this collective effort to save lives has taken on a greater sense of urgency.  Thank you for joining forces with us.




































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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Fast Girls - Book Review

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Three fast girls.  Three very different pathways to the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Three: the number of seconds between "get set" and blasting off the starting line into your future.  Three young women running, for all they are worth, for their lives.

Fast Girls is historical fiction that introduces us to real women who broke world records, achieved Olympic gold, rose above rampant racism, sexism, and the societal norms meant to keep them off the track... out of the running for their dreams... out of their place in history.

Betty Robinson.  Louise Stokes.  Helen Stephens.  Remember their names.  These fast girls will teach us much that goes far beyond 100 meters.  From them, we will gain the perspective and insight that becomes a kind of second wind, which is what you need when you hit the wall during a race, or in the midst of dealing with life's hard challenges.

Each fast girl had to rise above tremendous obstacles to become who she was destined to be.  Take Betty Robinson, for starters.  As the first American woman to achieve Olympic gold, at the very first Olympics that included female athletes (Amsterdam, 1928), it seemed the "Golden Girl" had it made.  Not long afterwards, Robinson was involved in a near-fatal plane crash that left her body wrecked beyond hope of any kind of recovery, or any return to her former glory.  Everyone counted her out.  Everyone, that is, except Betty herself.  What she does with her brokenness is what will define her greatness.

Next up, Louise Stokes.  As a member of the first integrated Olympic team, Stokes, a black athlete, will face the kind of abuses no one deserves, or should ever experience.  Her treatment, how she copes with it, and where it leads, even to today's Black Lives Matter movement, is not just a lesson for the history books.  It is living history.  It matters as much right now as it did back in 1932.

Which brings us to Helen Stephens.  Stephens, a misfit, unwanted by her father, mocked and bullied by her childhood peers, so different, so confused about her identity, so incredibly talented.  What will become of Helen?  Who will see her immense promise and provide a means for her to leave the bleak, hardscrabble existence of her youth?

Fast Girls is about so much more than blazing speed.  Even though these women, at their peak, were the fastest women in the world, what mattered, and still matters, is what they did with their enormous capacity for turning tragedies into personal triumph.  Their disappointments and losses, perhaps even more than their triumphs, are what make for compelling reading.

This is a book for the history buff, the athlete, the coach, the teacher, the enthusiastic spectator, the one who cares about the worthiness, and enormous value, of every single person who asks only to be allowed the opportunity to fly down that straightaway toward the achievement of a dream... toward the fulfillment of personal destiny.

*I received an ARC of Fast Girls from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.  I wish to thank the author, Elise Hooper, and her publisher, HarperCollins, for this opportunity.

**You may also wish to check out my five-star review of Elise Hooper's fabulous book Learning to See.









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