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

Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Book of Two Ways - A Review

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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.



Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


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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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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Pet Tracker - Book Review

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Wouldn't it be surreal to be the police bloodhound handler who needed a search and rescue mission for her very own tracker dog—for a dog so gifted in finding others?  What are the astronomical odds against that dog going missing and needing to be found?

For Kat Albrecht, a professional law enforcement finder of missing people, the panic of needing to find her much-loved dog, A.J., would be one of the real turning points of her life.  To read Pet Tracker, is to become immersed in Albrecht's transformative journey toward finding her true purpose in life by way of revolutionizing how lost animals are returned to their families.  

When Albrecht went out to her back yard on that fateful day and discovered, much to her shock, that A.J. was gone, she initially reacted like those of us who have had that happen.  She frantically, and tearfully, called for A.J. and ran around the area looking for signs of him.  Then, Kat did something that made all of the difference for A.J.: she paused, calmed down, and instinctively let her training take over.

Albrecht needed direction on where to start searching and this required help in the form of another dog.  If dogs could track missing people, why not give them a chance to use that skill to find another dog?  This wasn't being done at the time, but, having no other leads, Kat felt it was worth a try.  Even though Kea, the dog brought in to search for A.J. had not been specifically trained for this purpose, she was known to be a gifted tracker.  The mission was successful.  A.J. was found and brought safely home.

While reflecting on what had worked, Albrecht began to imagine the possibilities of using refined training techniques, and the tools of her trade, to take animal search and rescue to a whole new level.  It would be her retired service dog, Rachel, who would prove to be the key to this whole enterprise.  Rachel, a Weimaraner, taught her human everything she needed to know to ensure there were far more happy endings to the missing pet stories.

Pet Tracker is everything I love in a book.  It combines intrigue with amazing animals, inspiring people, surprising behavior, spy gadgets, forensics, sleuthing, and heart-warming rescue stories.  I picked up this book in the midst of a very personal rescue operation.  In grappling with the most challenging search of my life, I needed more understanding, more insight, more direction, more of everything that would take me to a higher plane, where I could be more of what the lost need.

Like Albrecht, my life has been changed forever, all because of one lost dog.  My lost dog.  I encourage everyone who cares about animals, or their humans, to read this book.  You never know when you might be called into action to help save a life.  And who knows?  Maybe the life you save just might be your own.











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Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Honey Bus - Book Review

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Honey has long been known as the elixir of life.  For Meredith May, a young child whose life had been turned upside down and inside out by parental discord, the miraculous powers of honey, bees, and her beekeeper grandfather would be a vital lifeline.  To read Meredith's memoir, The Honey Bus, is to be mesmerized by how honeybees took the raw material of a confused girl and turned her into something golden.

At five years of age, May found herself uprooted from everything familiar.  Due to the divorce of her parents, Meredith and her brother were suddenly moved cross-country to live with their grandfather in California.  This was an incredibly upsetting, and confusing, turn of events.  For May, things no longer made sense, as no one had explained what was happening.  To make matters worse, her mother barricaded herself behind a bedroom door, and entered a seemingly endless season of child abandonment.

Sensing the need for connection, nurturing, and something to fill the deep hole in his granddaughter's psyche, Franklin Peace began to introduce Meredith to the wonders of beekeeping.  That journey began with a flurry of bee stings—which would terrorize most children.  Counter to what one might expect, the temporary pain of that surprise attack by swarming bees built up a kind of immunity to the deeper sting of feeling alone in the world.

Like a bee drawn to honey, May's curiosity about the rusty old Army bus in her grandfather's back yard was not to be denied.  The ramshackle honey bus was the object of Meredith's great desire.  She longed to be granted entry into that portal, for she knew that magical things happened inside her grandfather's top secret laboratory.  On the day when she was finally deemed old enough for a membership into the honey bus's secret society, May's joy knew no bounds.

As her grandfather's beekeeping apprentice, Meredith not only entered into the fantastical world of honeybees, but more importantly, she found her forever family.
Bees need the warmth of family.  Alone, a single bee isn't likely to make it through the night.  A beehive revolves around one principle—the family.  I knew that gnawing need for a family.
May's sage, quietly unassuming grandfather used the language of bees to reveal the ancient ways that were relevant to learning how to persevere through collective strength.  As she fed off of this Way of the Bees, Meredith learned all that she could not learn from her birth parents.  It was the bees that were, in essence, raising her.  From them, the author gained insight into compassion and how to thrive by caring for others. 



In following Meredith through the mystical portal into honeybee society, we find ourselves joining in the dance of the bees.  You will revel in the poetry of what it is to be in the presence of sacred creatures that exist for the greater good.  The artistry of Meredith May's writing was, to this reader, the sweetest of nectars.

Just as honeybees make themselves essential through their generosity, this book is essential reading in that it gives us what we need to enter into the bee's state of grace.  Bees give far more than they ever take.  Spending time in The Honey Bus has given me the desire to be more of what someone else might need right now.  And, perhaps, that is the true elixir of life.









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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Learning to See - Book Review

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You have seen the photos.  The Migrant Mother.  Desperate families on the move.  Children experiencing abject poverty.  Desolate internment camps.

Migrant Mother (1936)
Credit: Dorothea Lange/Public Domain

You have heard the photographer's name.  Dorothea Lange.  But how many of us know the backstory of how Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn Lange (1895-1965) became one of the most famous documentary photographers of all time?

Dorothea Lange (1936)
Credit: The Library of Congress/No Restrictions

Learning to See is historical fiction that reads like an organic biography.  Elise Hooper used volumes of historical records and interviews to create this compelling memoir-like novel.  Like many based-on-true-life stories, the fiction morphs with the nonfiction into a very realistic portrait of the complex life and times of Dorothea Lange.

We are first introduced to the intrepid twenty-two-year-old Nutzhorn as she arrives in the bohemian San Francisco of 1918.  Having been the victim of a thief who makes off with her life savings, Dorothea must use her wits to secure housing and a job as a photographic assistant.  Before long, the renamed Lange decides to forge her own path as an independent studio photographer.

As things unfold, we discover Dorothea's many evolving iterations: friend, businesswoman, wife, mother, and fearless social activist.  There are elements of Lange's life that some will find upsetting (like choosing to foster out her children during the hard economic times of the Great Depression).  The sacrifices endured for the sake of Lange's calling will have lifelong ramifications.

This is a book for those who appreciate historical fiction, biographies, defining moments in time, photography, or reflections on the human landscape of America.  I couldn't help but see the parallels between the subjects of Lange's Depression Era portraits and those that are beginning to define this current time of economic collapse, migrant oppression, and social injustice.

As a photographer with a connection to our country's unseen and often marginalized individuals, the themes of this book deeply resonate.  For me, Lange's unvarnished look at the real America took me to a place deep within myself that wishes to compassionately acknowledge and respond to the pain of those who are struggling mightily.  We know there are multitudes experiencing the hardest times of their lives at this very moment in our nation's history.

Woman of the High Plains (1938)
Credit: Dorothea Lange/Public Domain
This is not the time to look away.  To peer into the haunting images of Dorothea Lange's America, is to have the opportunity of a lifetime to learn to see and to define who we will become in relationship to, and with, those who are trying to survive, while hoping for a better tomorrow.

I highly recommend this novel and encourage members of book clubs to consider Learning to See as a group selection.  It is sure to generate the kinds of conversations that matter.










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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Lost in Transplantation - Book Review

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One of the deepest human yearnings is to know that our lives have meaning and purpose.  There is this need to make a real difference.  Eldonna Edwards' memoir, Lost in Transplantation, is ultimately a book about how you find your way to that place.

For Edwards, the gift was that of life.  In choosing to be a living kidney donor, she literally gave of herself to ensure another individual, and a stranger at that, could experience the very life of life.  This story, though, is not written to spotlight Eldonna.  The real underlying message is one that will, perhaps in more subtle ways, inspire each of us to commit an act of uncommon goodness, grace, generosity, or no-strings-attached love.

The opportunity, for Edwards, arrived unexpectedly.  As a 48-year-old single mom enrolled in community college courses, Eldonna learned that one of her young classmates was suffering from a kidney condition that would prematurely end her life.  Though she did not know this young woman very well, Edwards quickly realized she wanted to donate a kidney to her.  To Eldonna's great disappointment, her offer was rejected.  Sometimes an individual in great need is not ready to receive—not even a gift being freely given with pure motives.

This could very easily have been the end of it, but a seed had been planted.  Edwards found herself on a quest to learn everything she could about the need for kidney donors and the process of donor selection.  The more she discovered, the stronger the urge grew to help someone on the kidney transplant list.  It turns out, though, that there would be major hurdles standing in the way.

To read Lost in Transplantation, is to accompany Eldonna on her winding pathway to giving what she most wanted to give.  It is also to be there when she receives what she most needed to receive.  You will find yourself becoming completely invested in the author and her mission because of Eldonna's authenticity, her humility, her beautiful humanity, and the unassuming way she touches hearts.

This book held great meaning for me.  When my mother was diagnosed with renal cancer, which required the removal of her malignant kidney, I began to think about the possibility of needing to donate a kidney to her.  Mom had various conditions that made the reliance on one kidney rather precarious and quite risky.  As I sat in the hospital by her bedside following nephrectomy surgery, I learned that her sole remaining kidney was not picking up the extra duty that her second kidney had previously performed.  I was ready to offer my mother one of my kidneys should it become necessary.

To offer a close family member a kidney is one thing.  To offer a total stranger a kidney is quite another.  Lost in Transplantation will move you in ways you weren't expecting.  Perhaps this will be the story that leads you to an act of kindness or mercy that will completely transform a life.  Not everyone can donate a kidney, but each of us can donate something, big or small, that will make the kind of difference that brings meaning and purpose into life.

I wish to thank Eldonna Edwards for the gift of this book and her healing presence in the world.  You inspire me!  I highly recommend that you pick up her memoir today.  For those who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can read this for free.  This link will take you there.





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Thursday, April 2, 2020

No Ordinary Dog - Book Review

Read an Excerpt
If I asked you what you were doing when you learned about the terror of the unfolding 9/11 disaster, I have no doubt that nearly 100% of you could provide, in great detail, your memory of that dark day.

Now, how about May 2, 2011—what can you tell me about that day?  Actually, I can't recall anything about it, but the author of No Ordinary Dog, Will Chesney, was there when the mastermind of September 11th, Osama Bin Laden, was finally brought to justice during one of the most incredible Navy SEAL operations of all time.

Due to the highly classified nature of the ultimate in top secret missions, only one operative's name was released at the time—Cairo—the extraordinary military dog present during the raid.  This is the story of Cairo and Will's journey to achieving their joint, and yet distinct, destinies.  Most of all, it is a poignant tribute to the life-changing power of the human-animal bond.

Chesney knew his destiny very early in life.  All he ever wanted to be was a Navy SEAL.  It was that, or nothing.  Likewise, Cairo, an exquisite Belgian Malinois, was bred, raised, and trained for an equally elite destiny.  Few animals ever make the cut when it comes to serving as a special ops war dog.  Cairo was among the rarest of the rare.

Though I had read books and seen movies about Navy SEALS, nothing ever really drove home the extreme sacrifices made by these rare individuals like No Ordinary Dog.  Reading Chesney's accounts of what he felt and experienced during his SEAL training made me wonder how anyone ever endured that rite of passage.  Likewise, despite reading dozens of books about the process of how service dogs are prepared for their work, this was a very different look into the becoming of a top-of-the-line military counterterrorism dog.  It was fascinating to learn about the motivations and methods that come together to create a weaponized canine capable of functioning at unbelievably complex levels.

Over the course of their tours of duty, there was plenty of action and many memorable moments in service to their country.  If you are like me, though, it will be their final mission that stands out.  When Will is seriously wounded by a grenade explosion, and suffers from the long-term impacts of PTSD and other equally debilitating injuries, it will take the unbreakable bond he shares with Cairo to get him through the greatest challenge of his life.

This is a book for anyone who loves dogs, enjoys military history, appreciates the sacrifices made by our human and canine military forces, or who finds inspiration in the incomparable connection between humans and their animals.  It is a book that will stay with you during this time when our nation is once again shaken to its very core just as it was on that September day so many years ago.

Note: I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for my honest review.  This book will be released on April 21, 2020.  Available for pre-order today.







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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Brave Girl, Quiet Girl - Book Review

Read an Excerpt
Every extraordinary book has that moment when you fall irrevocably in love with it.  For me, that oh-I-just-love-this-so-much moment in Catherine Ryan Hyde's Brave Girl, Quiet Girl came from the mouth of a babe.  You can pretty much count on a two-year-old to get right to the heart of the matter and Etta doesn't disappoint.  When she whispers brave girl, quiet girl to her trembling rescuer, the story is made... the book's soul is revealed... and this reader was completely smitten.

Because you can follow links to the official book synopsis, I won't spend time rehashing what you can discover for yourself.  Let me just give you the broad strokes and then cut to the chase.  After all, that's what I want in a review—not so much facts, as the alchemy of what makes for an unforgettable reading experience.

I have already mentioned Etta.  If you ask me, this amazing toddler is the pivot upon which everything turns.  As the story begins, Etta is ripped away from her family in the course of a carjacking.  Her mother, Brooke, is desperate to find her baby, but the odds are stacked against a safe return.

And then there is Molly, a cast-off teen, living on the mean streets of L.A. after being discarded by her rigid, unaccepting parents.  It is so perfectly fitting that a child who has lost all sense of worthiness is the one who comes to find, and protect, Etta after the jackers abandon her in the dark of night.

Despite the bleak circumstances that embrace both Brooke and Molly (or, I'm now thinking it is because of that bleakness), the broken pieces of two psyches will discover a way to fit together in perfectly imperfect ways to form a new sense of acceptance, belonging, and family.

Brave Girl, Quiet Girl is ultimately the story of how the light gets in through the broken places to illuminate the beauty that was formerly hidden within the bleakness.  I've come to the recognition, after reading a majority of Catherine Ryan Hyde's books, that one of her many gifts as a writer is something I can only compare to the Japanese aesthetic known as wabi-sabi.

The thing I find so appealing about this aesthetic, especially as it applies to CRH's consistent approach to bringing together beautifully flawed people, is how the imperfection causes me to love them more.  Just as the Japanese do, the author highlights rather than hides the flaws.  In her skillful hands, the flaw becomes the work of art.

Just as wabi-sabi features that which is authentic, and acknowledges that nothing is finished, so too do we see that in this book's work-in-progress characters.  We experience them in their raw state of becoming.  It makes them entirely relatable and, in my case, made me feel great empathy for their plights.

Finally, I was deeply struck by how the homeless in this story viewed those who sought to help them.  It made me reflect on my current relationships with those who are without a home.  Why is help offered?  When is help not at all helpful?  What is the best way to reach out to those in need?  How do they define the need?

Those who appreciate the humanity at the center of Catherine Ryan Hyde's writing are sure to find much to love, just as I did, in Brave Girl, Quiet Girl.  I knew I could count on coming away from this read with a feeling of greater compassion—not only toward Brooke, and Molly, and Bodhi—but also for my own flawed self.

Brave Girl, Quiet Girl releases on May 19, 2020.  I received an Advanced Reader Copy (e-galley) from NetGalley in return for my honest review.  I highly recommend this book and encourage you to pick up your copy today.











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Thursday, January 30, 2020

An Invisible Thread - Book Review

"An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, and circumstance.  The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break."  ~ Ancient Chinese Proverb

Read an Excerpt
It began, for both the author and me, in much the same way.  We were two busy professional women, rushing past panhandlers, only to feel yanked back by an invisible thread.  Something we knew nothing about at the time, Laura Schroff in bustling Manhattan, and me in sleepy, rural Colorado, drew us to connect with individuals whose circles and lives were so far removed from our normal daily existence.

Was it destiny?  Perhaps.  All I know is that one instant of pausing to really see the person behind the sign became a moment of recognition.  For some reason, both Schroff and I were to have an awakening that came at the hands of destitution.

You never really see that coming—a whole new purpose born of paying attention, of listening, and of being drawn into the stories of those who have so little... those who are stereotyped as takers rather than givers.  This book review, of An Invisible Thread, is really the story within a story of how all of our lives are intertwined.

It seemed like any other ordinary day when Laura Scroff's life was profoundly, and forever, changed.  She had no intention of meeting up with a disadvantaged street child, but things that are meant to be tend to override executive sales agendas.

After initially passing up eleven-year-old Maurice, who asked Scroff for spare change because he was hungry, she found herself looking back over her shoulder at him, and then backpedaling to take Maurice to McDonald's for lunch.  This seemingly unassuming, one-time act of kindness then took on a life of its own.  Over Big Macs and fries, Laura and Maurice launched what would become a lifelong friendship.  Through months, and then years, of weekly meal dates and life-enriching experiences, these two became chosen family.

As one who had grown up with abuse, Schroff could empathize, and feel great compassion for this young boy who was attempting to survive the most extreme poverty—a poverty that extended well beyond that of hunger and lack of safe shelter.  Surrounded by drug-addled adults who were emotionally unavailable to nurture him, and living by his wits alone, Maurice's poverty went soul deep.

Though her friends and colleagues warned her off, thinking Schroff's outreach to Maurice was too risky, Laura's commitment to, and bond with him would not, and could not, be broken.  This would not turn out to be a one-way charity case.  It became a mutually beneficial friendship that transformed and healed both individuals.

He Shared His Story With Me Over a Subway Sandwich
Those who follow my Facebook postings know that I interact with homeless individuals on a daily basis.  It isn't something I would ever have thought would become a mission for me.  I just felt compelled one day to stop and listen to the personal story of the man behind one of those panhandling signs.

I Felt Compelled to Stop and Let Kindness Connect Us
I don't even like the word panhandler because of its negative connotation.  Doesn't it spark labels of beggar, or for some people, even something as ugly as loser?  I've seen and heard those drive-by insults when standing on a corner checking up on one of my homeless friends.  You know... the guy who rolls down his window and shouts, "Get a job, loser!"

Perhaps We Are All Living on a Prayer
What Laura and I found, when really getting to know the person holding that piece of cardboard in his hands, was a whole new way of living... a whole new way of perceiving those willing to bare their vulnerable souls to a public that isn't always very welcoming to them.  We both discovered, and opened up, the gifts of these beautiful souls.  We became the recipients of change that is not spare.

I highly recommend An Invisible Thread, not because it has been a New York Times bestseller, but because of its focus on kindness and goodness.  Do I believe there is an invisible thread?  Oh, yes... absolutely... and I am so thankful for those on the other end of my thread.







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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Noom Healthy Weight Loss App Review


Wouldn't it be great to kick off the new year with a five-pound weight loss?  I decided to get a head start on my resolutions and do exactly that.  Five days ago, I started my two-week Noom trial and have already exceeded my expectations for early success.  Here's a quick review of how the Noom healthy weight loss app has helped jumpstart a healthier 2020 for me.

Noom has been all over the news lately.  I kept seeing the promos and decided to check it out.  There was really nothing to lose in giving it a try (except maybe a little belly fat).

First, you need to know that I am not a fad dieter.  I was glad to learn that Noom is not a diet.  There's no special food to buy and you can pretty much eat what you want (within certain parameters).

It was super easy to get started.  I set up a trial account with Noom and downloaded their free app (available for both IOS and Android platforms).  All of that took less than two minutes.

Next, I was asked a few questions about my health goals.  Noom is a program based on tapping into your motivation and encouraging the behavior changes needed to support what you wish to achieve.  Whether you want to lose weight, feel healthier, be more fit, or eat right, Noom is there to gently nudge you in the right direction.

I want to do all of those things.  After plugging my answers into the app, I was provided with a two-week plan.  That plan includes eating more nutrient-dense foods, gradually increasing the number of steps I take each day (with an eventual target of walking 10,000 steps), doing a daily weigh-in, and logging my meals.

After calculating my weight-loss goal, my age, my current weight, and other pertinent factors (like any physical limitations, energy needs, etc.), I was given a target of consuming no more than 1,200 calories per day.  That may seem restrictive, but I have found it reasonable and doable.  I'm not starving or feeling deprived (because I am eating foods that are filling and satisfying).

Noom wants me to focus on caloric density when I choose my foods.  Eating foods with a low caloric density is one of the keys to successfully achieving my goals.  The app will teach you what you need to know, but essentially, fruits and vegetables typically have the best ratio when it comes to low calories and high nutritional value (think foods with fiber and a decent water content).

Foods are categorized into three color groups: Green, Yellow, and Red.  I am allowed to eat what I choose within those groups, as long as I don't exceed the calorie recommendations for each.  The Noom app provides me with an instant analysis of my food choices.


Noom is a research-based program that makes us more conscious of the triggers that guide our actions when it comes to eating and healthier living.  We are shown how triggers lead to thoughts, thoughts to actions, and actions to consequences.  I find myself being more mindful about my choices.

Who might be drawn to the Noom approach to healthier living?
  • People on the go with a busy lifestyle.  
  • Anyone who enjoys the convenience of interacting with an app rather than having to be in a certain place at a specific time.  
  • Those who enjoy a light-hearted interface that offers up quick, easy-to-understand tidbits of health-related information followed by fun quizzes.  
  • The individual who likes to be affirmed for making progress.  
Noom provides you with a personal coach who checks in with you at the start of the program (and at least weekly).  You can message your coach any time through the app.  Your coach will make suggestions after reviewing your goals and activities.  I just received these messages from my coach this morning:



To get the most out of Noom, I choose to engage in all of the opportunities on my daily action list.  When I log in each morning, I take a few minutes to check out these activities because I get a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment from doing so.  This was today's checklist:



In addition to the basics, there are a number of extras that can be added on.  Once your trial concludes, you have the option to continue for a monthly subscription fee.  I'm still in the first week of my trial, but can say it has been working well for me.  I would have been happy losing two pounds my first week.  To lose five pounds makes me ecstatic.

Having to weigh myself daily as a part of my Noom commitment is not my idea of a good time, but I must say that the accountability of doing so, and logging that weight, makes me try harder.  The same is true of logging my daily meals.  I'm not going to eat junk when I have to post it for someone else to see.  Accountability makes such a difference.

You know what else keeps me going?  Affirmations.  It is so nice to receive a high five when I do something right.  It's the little things like this that make me want to stay the course and keep on keeping on.



Earlier today, I asked one of my friends about her Noom experience.  This is what Jan had to say:
It was easy to lose weight, the daily information was fun to read, the program was/is sustainable.  I didn't participate often in the large group support activities and my personal coach was ok but not great.  I loved that I was able to recover from two knee replacement surgeries (low activity levels for several weeks) and still lose weight! 
Jan also mentioned that she had referred others to the program and was recently thanked for doing so.  One woman who lost 14 pounds as a result of that referral shared that it had changed her life.  It doesn't get much better than that!

I have no doubt I will reach my ultimate goals (and sooner rather than later).  Why don't you join me on Noom.  Give it a two-week go to see what you can accomplish in a short window of time.  If you use any link in this review, you will receive a free trial (I paid for mine) and a 20% discount on a Noom subscription.  Click here to try Noom for free.

Let's make 2020 our best year yet.  We hold the power to do so within us.  All we have to do is unleash it.







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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Christmas Jars - Movie Review

Watch Christmas Jars - Free Online Streaming
This time of year I am looking for inspirational movies in keeping with the true spirit of Christmas.  I love stories with heart, so when I came upon Christmas Jars, I knew I had found my kind of holiday movie.

Based on Jason F. Wright's New York Times bestselling novel, this film is for anyone who appreciates a focus on kindness, generosity, hope, forgiveness, compassion, and family.

As the movie begins, Hope Jensen, a 22-year-old aspiring writer is going through really hard times. Just when she is at her lowest, Hope discovers that someone has left a jar filled with coins on her doorstep.

The mystery of who committed this random act of kindness grips Hope.  She goes into full investigative journalist mode in her quest to uncover the perpetrator of this anonymous generosity.

Of course, there are twists and turns along the way, for that is the nature of life, and a good holiday movie.  Hope does find the beautiful individual who left her a gift much bigger than a sum of money.  Things become complicated, however, when she must choose between protecting the identity of her benefactor or achieving the long-awaited dream of publishing the feature that skyrockets her career.

This isn't a spoiler review, so I am being careful not to reveal too much.  Let's just say there will be elements of romance and finding what you have always needed.  In wrestling with her moral dilemma, and coming out on the other side, Hope experiences the power of compassion, forgiveness, and chosen family.

Though the movie is associated with a faith organization, there are no religious overtones.  It is simply a wholesome family film that can be enjoyed by all.  Originally released in November of 2019 as a special one-night theater event, Christmas Jars recently made its debut on television.  Both the original novel and the movie have spawned an ever-expanding kindness movement.  Millions of dollars in spare change has been collected and distributed to individuals in need.

In conjunction with seeing the movie (I've provided you with this link to watch it for free online), I encourage you to visit the Christmas Jars website to be moved by the personal stories of recipients of that kindness.  There is so much goodness that often goes unreported by the news networks.  I found that these true stories were a reminder that it is the small acts of love that change the world for the better—one person at a time.

As I was working on this review, and doing my own Hope-esque search for the backstory behind this movie, and the phenomenon of the Christmas Jars, I discovered something really wondrous.  The author of the book, Jason F. Wright, actually started the tradition of the Christmas jar with his wife and young children back in 2004.

When they were looking for a new family tradition that would make the holidays extra special, they decided to place all of their spare change in a jar throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Then, they would select someone—an individual or family—who needed some encouragement.  That first jar contained about $88.  On Christmas Eve, they crept up on the chosen family's porch, placed their jar of coins by the door, rang the doorbell, and then ran to hide behind some bushes.

Here's where it gets really good.  In 2005, when Wright's book was first released, and had not yet achieved NYT bestseller status, he found himself downsized at work and a bit financially strapped.  It was at that moment when someone anonymously left Wright and his family their very own Christmas jar.  The tradition had gone full circle.  How beautiful is that?

It may not seem like much, but as you will read from the testimonies, a Christmas jar can be miraculous to the one needing a miracle, or a reminder that they are seen and loved.  I am filling my own jar of coins even as we speak.  On Christmas Eve, I plan to leave someone a little bit of tender loving kindness.  For what are the holidays if not a time to be a messenger of hope and light?











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