Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recommended Reading for Widows

Highly Recommended: Seasons of Solace: A Story of Healing Through Photos and Poems by Janelle Shantz Hertzler

Janelle Shantz Hertzler was a young wife, mother, and teacher working alongside her husband in Thailand when on a summer morning, her life was shattered. While riding his motorcycle to a meeting, John, her husband, was hit head-on by a drunk driver and killed instantly. With her son, Janelle returned to the U.S. Two years later along a river bank, she noticed a small red leaf, dying but radiant. She was compelled to capture that image in a photograph and thus began her journey through grief to solace. Along the way she photographed images of nature that spoke to her and recorded her anger, her grief and her memories in poetry. Not a professional photographer or a poet, she brought to life the universal experience of grief and acceptance in ways that speak to anyone who has survived a devastating loss. Her pictures beautifully demonstrate the healing power of the natural world and her voice resonates with those who have embarked on a journey from death to life. She ends her book, “My view of life, fuller because of death.” Here is a book that comforts and inspires. Well worth reading. To learn more about Janelle, see www.journey-through-grief.com

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Ever since I can remember, bluebonnets have been the symbol of spring. When I was a child, we would drive into the hills around Austin to look at them. After I was grown, my family and I would head west along I-10 or 290 to see the wildflowers. Ralph and I continued our annual outings after the children were grown, and now I go with my son and his wife and daughter.

We went Satuday, accompanied by Chrissa, one of my greanddaughter's American Girl dolls. It was a perfect spring day. We took 290 and soon after we passed Hempstead, we began seeing wildflowers. There is nothing like a field of bluebonnets. Photos or paintings can never do them justice. Their blue is perfect against the green wild grass, their subtle fragrance fills your nostrils with the scent of spring. We stopped to take pictures, drove to Brenham to have lunch and then stoppped for ice cream at Blue Bell Creamery. Blue Bell is so Texas, as much a part of the state as the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush.

On the way back we saw dozens of cars parked along the roadway. A huge field of bluebonnets mixed with pink buttercupts lay before us. It was filled with people. And cameras. The gate had been left open--Texans are the friendliest people in the world--and folks wandered through the field. I saw a young woman seated among the flowers with her baby in her lap, a man taking a snapshot through the Texas map on the gate, a brother and sister wading through the flowers, an older woman in a red lawn chair with a scruffy white dog in her arms. I picked a few bluebonnets to take home, my annual unlawful act. It's against the law to pick bluebonnets along Texas highways. And don't think people didn't notice and comment on my contraband bouquet as I walked back to the car.

Since becoming a widow, I have learned how important it is to appreciate the beauty around you and hold those memories close to your heart. Being with my family amidst all this loveliness is one of the memories I'll cherish.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Quote for the Week

The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work; there is now no smooth road into the future, but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
D.H. Lawrence

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bumps (Or Bumplets) Along the Widow's Road

It's the everyday annoyances that get you down, isn't it?

A couple of weeks ago I invited company for dinner. I decided to impress them with tomato basil soup, but somehow I couldn't get it right. So I zoomed over to La Madeleine and bought a jar of theirs. My guests wouldn't know the difference, I thought. I couldn't open the jar. Ran hot water over it, hit it with a knife, turned the lid with all my strength. When the guests arrived, one of them had to open the jar. So much for impressing them with my culinary skill. If only I'd had my husband around to open that jar.

Tuesday this week I wore a favorite necklace. That night when I got ready for bed I couldn't get it undone. I turned it to the front, tried it with my other hand. I spent twenty minutes unsuccessfully trying to open the clasp. Five years ago I'd have yelled, "Ralph!" and he would have unfastened it in a second. Sweat ran down my forehead. I was sure if I wore the necklace to bed, I'd either break it or choke myself in my sleep. Finally I put my clothes back on, went next door and rang the bell. The husband answered. Red-faced, I asked, "Would you mind unfastening this for me?" "Turn around," my neighbor instructed and, of course, just as Ralph would have done, he got it off immediately. "Hazards of living alone," I mumbled, thanked him and scurried back home. I love that necklace, but I will think twice before wearing it again.

Friday my phone stopped working. No dial tone, nada. I called AT&T...on my cell. They told me to unplug everything that was connected to AT&T. Fortunately, that was just my phones. It could have been my computer, my fax, my TV...heaven knows what else. They said to wait five minutes and plug them in again. Nothing happened. My blood pressure began to rise as I dialed back the phone company and they told me they'd be happy to come out...on Monday afternoon. Three days without phone service? I wanted to cry. Yes, I have a cell, but most people call on my land line and all it was doing was giving a busy signal. Besides, I could just imagine what the service charge would be. Monday afternoon also meant I would also have to cancel some speech therapy sessions to wait for the phone person. That was never a problem when I was married because Ralph officed at home and could arrange his schedule to be here when service people arrived. But we might not have needed a service call because Ralph could have fixed the problem in no time. In fact, eventually I fixed it myself, saving myself a good deal of time and money but. alas, not preventing myself from getting upset in the first place. What was wrong? The cat had knocked one of the receivers off the base just enough to cut off the phones but not enough for me to have noticed even when I was going around unplugging everything. Ralph would have found it immediately. It took me several hours.

Speaking of the cat, have you ever tried to give a cat a pill? Don't! Avoid it if you can. Unfortunately, Toby, my eight-year-old cat, is now on heart muscle medication. The pills are tiny and for the first few days I could hide them in a spoonful of baby food and he'd gobble them up. Now he's figured out there's something in the baby food so he eats around the pill and I have to fight with him to get it down him. I'm going to try crushing it and then putting it in the baby food. I only hope it works because he's stronger...and smarter than I am when it comes to medicine.

It's tiring and annoying to manage these inconveniences alone. I wish I could push a button and a "minor emergency person" would magically appear. Don't you other widows wish the same?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Upcoming Publications

This has been a productive year. I'm pleased to announce that I have 3 essays coming out in anthologies soon. The anthologies are Press Pause, Relationships and Other Stuff, and From the Porch Swing. More when the books are released.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Quote for the Week

These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves.
Gilbert Hughes

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Remembering Linette

Eleven years ago this Easter weekend Ralph and I traveled to Iowa to celebrate his mother's 80th birthday. It was a lovely spring weekend, with soft breezes and the perfume of flowers.

All five of Grandma Z's children and many of her grandchildren gathered to mark the occasion. Saturday night we had dinner at the small Chinese restaurant on Main Street. The evening was festive, with talk and laughter.

But Sunday morning our joy was dashed. Linette, the oldest grandchild, the daughter of Karen and Dave, had died the evening before in an automobile accident.

I remember Linette as a red-haired child with a winning smile and later as a lovely young woman with that same happy smile. She was a special person. After college she traveled the world, teaching English in Japan and later in Burundi, where she was evacuated by the State Department during the Hutu/Tutsi wars. She went from there to Florida, where she enrolled in the University of Florida's doctoral program in linguistics, with an emphasis on Swahili. She was writing her dissertation when she died.

But she wasn't just a student. She earned a black belt in karate and was on the way home from a karate tournament with her husband and other members of the college karate club when the collision happened and she was thrown beneath the car.

She was also a lovely young woman with an outgoing personality, strong opinions and an endearing sense of humor. I often imagine what she might have contributed to the world had she had the chance. She died too soon, leaving an emtpy space in her family. Those who loved her will always miss her.

Friday, April 2, 2010

"You Always Have Your Nose in a Book" My Mother

Yes, that's what my mother always said, and since "Mother is always right," another of her favorite sayings, it was true. I loved reading and still do. So I thought I'd share some books I've recently read, some I'm reading now (I usually read more than one at a time) and some on my To Be Read pile.

Recently read:
Fool by Christopher Moore, a parody of King Lear told from the Fool's point of view. I read this for a book club and was probably the only person in the group who didn't absolutely love it. Still, the author gets points for turning the most tragic of Shakespeare's plays into a comedy.

A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief by Sheila Bender. Written after the accidental death of her son, the book includes poems she wrote to help her manage her grief. Sheila is not only a gifted writer, but a wonderful teacher as well. I've taken her personal essay courses on-line at Writing It Real.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield A novel based on the life of Laura Bush. Compelling read, but I think it was mean-spirited of the author to write such a transparent book on the life of the former First Lady. I admit I couldn't put it down. She nailed all the Bushes.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goodrick Gothic tale about a lonely, wealthy man who advertises for a wife and what happens to them. Ponderous but interesting. I'd give it a B minus.

What I'm Reading Now (or have just finished)

Uncommon Wisdom John Castaldo and Laurence Levitt Short anecdoes by two neurologists about their interactions with patients. A beautiful book that shows the human side of medicine, which in sadly lacking in some doctors.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll I'm reading this for my book club but I almost know it by heart. I bought a copy of The Annotated Alice, which I've meant to do for a long time. One of my favorite books of all time.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson Also for my book club. Started it early and am reading a little at a time because it's 600 pages. I really like it so far.

The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andre Shatte. After reading most of this, I've decided I'm a very resilient person.

My TBR pile

The Help by Kathryn Stockett This comes highly recommended from numerous friends.

You Only Die Once by Margie Jenkins. She's a psychotherapist in Houston, and I heard her speak about preparing for death but living "bodaceously" in the meantime. Since I attend a Death, Dying and Dessert group that talks about issues related to aging and dying, this is a book I really want to read.

I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova. Another book for my DDD group.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult. The child in the story has Aspergers and since about 10to 20% of the kids on my caseload at any given time fall on the autistic spectrum, I'm very anxious to read this book. Besides, I like Picoult's writing.

Comments or recommendations anyone?

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