Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March Books of the Month

Here's my list of books I read this month:

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. I read her touching first book, Still Alice, so was excited to read the latest. It's the story of a career woman/mom whose multitasking lands her in an automobile accident. She's left with a rare condition called "left neglect" in which she is unaware of the left side of her body. I was fascinated with her accident and rehab, but then the book became a little too pat. Interesting but not nearly as good as Still Alice.

Rescue by Nicholas Sparks. Typical melodramatic Sparks--what the Wall Street Journal calls Vic Lit (I guess the book above fits that category as well). Single mom with a four-year-old language imapaired son is rescued after a car crash by a handsome fireman who has a secret in his past. OMG, as a speech pathologist, I wanted to slap this mother (and Sparks, too) upside the head. Imagine working with your child by strapping him in a chair for 4 hours a day and making him repeat words. I kept reading because I wanted to see what other stupid things this mom would do. Obviously, I don't recommend this book.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. The final book of the Hunger Games trilogy, it follows Katmiss and her friends (and enemies) as she becomes the symbol of the rebellion against the tyrannical Captiol. Better than the second book, not as good as the first, but has some twists at the end.

Emma by Jane Austen. The social mores of a small town in Austen's time period, centered around Emma, who unsuccessfully plays matchmaker. Fun read, great social commentary. I read this for my book club.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Another book club read. Bradbury's futuristic tale of censorship and the fireman who fights it. Worth reading and re-reading.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tuesday Quote: Think Like a Tree by Karen Shragg

Soak up the sun
Affirm life's magic
Be graceful in the wind
Stand tall after a storm
Feel refreshed after it rains
Grow strong without notice
Be prepared for each season
Provide shelter to strangers
Hang tough through a cold spell
Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring
Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky
Be still long enough to
hear your own leaves rustling

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Meet Ellen Gerst, Author of Love after Loss

Ellen Gerst, is a life coach, widow (now remarreid) and author whose work you're sure to enjoy. In keeping with the resilience theme I began last week, read Ellen's story of trying something new during her widowhood:

Stepping One Toe Over the Line
© Ellen Gerst 2010

I have been a strict rule follower my whole life – crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s. I also always fulfill my responsibilities before taking any pleasure.

Never stepping over the line, my late husband’s suicide was an especially hard concept for me to understand, for what goes more against societal rules than taking one’s own life?

I believe part of the lesson I needed to learn was that it is okay to put a toe over the line now and again, and that the world will not stop in its tracks if I do something just for me. I also had to learn to allow myself to consider my own well-being while tending to those around me. Being a people pleaser, ultimately, the lesson was learning that receiving is just another form of giving – that is, by receiving you are allowing the giver to receive his/her own satisfaction in that act toward you.

In my quest to put these lessons into action and do something just because I wanted to, I decided to have some light-hearted fun while doing something very out-of-character. I auditioned for two game shows that were having tryouts in my hometown!

My first foray was with The Weakest Link. I had never even watched the show, but I
thought it might be fun to see what it was all about. There must have been 500 people all vying for 10 spots. After filling out the paperwork, we were instructed, one by one, to stand up and state our name and one sentence about ourselves. Ann Landers had passed away shortly before this tryout, so I told the interviewer I was an author of self-help books and that since Ann was gone, I was fully prepared to take her place. I guess that was a memorable statement because I was picked to go on to the next round where a mini-version of the game was played. I did not make it through this round, but it did give me the confidence to try again.

A year or so later, I saw an announcement on TV for open auditions for the Pyramid game show, which was making a comeback with host Donny Osmond. I quickly wrote down the 800 number and rushed to make my appointment. After many thwarted tries and continuous busy signals, I finally reached a live person. Before assigning me a time slot, I needed to answer various questions. The one I found most interesting was – "Are you a presidential candidate?" At the time, I thought – could you just see George W. Bush on this show? Somehow I didn't think he had the appropriate verbal skills!

Anyway – I was in! Prospective contestants were advised that the producers were looking for people with a pleasant smile; good verbal skills (who knew I would finally get to use my college degree for something purposeful?); and someone to whom the audience could relate and like right away. As I prepared myself the morning of the tryout, I struggled with the most important question – “What should I wear?” Should I appear demure, or were they seeking a bolder look to liven up the show? I opted not to push the envelope and settled for middle of the road – not too demure and not too bold; however, I did wear red pants, so I would stand out. Of course, many other people had the same bright idea, and I simply melted into the sea of red – and it did not part in my wake!

Traveling for a good hour, the mall where the tryouts would take place loomed large across the freeway. I parked, and, as I approached the designated meeting place, I saw the line had already started.

As we stood there, the production assistants gave us nametags and took our picture with the person standing next to us. About 15 minutes later, they came around again to distribute the pictures. They tore them in half and gave each of us our own picture. One person on line remarked – “It's just like a break up when you keep the picture of yourself because you liked it and discard the other person.”

The appointed time arrived, and we were let into the room where we filled out an application and watched a tape of the show to acquaint us with how the game is played. A 30-question test was given. Five items were named, and we had to put down the category name that tied them together. Stated at the outset was that it was a difficult test and not many people would be left.

I really didn't think it was that hard and was sure I got the answers right (of course except the one I had no idea about and had to skip). Unfortunately, the judges were not in agreement with me, and I didn't make the cut. Of the original 75, all but eight were dismissed with the proviso that we were welcome to try out again in six months. And with that, my fifteen minutes of fame (and a possible $25,000) slipped through my fingers.

There was a happy ending though – that was the night I met my current husband, who lived on that side of town – a place I rarely visited.

So the point of this tale is – sometimes feelings of grief, although indicative of a great loss, allow us to be brave enough to have new experiences of which we never could have conceived. Life is for the living, so grab hold and have some fun!

Ellen Gerst is a Grief and Relationship Coach and the author of many books on both subjects, including Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story and 101 Tips and Thoughts on Coping with Grief. Learn more about Ellen and her books and services through her website at To receive tips on dating and relationships; coping with grief; and confidence and the mind/body wellness connection, join her on Facebook at,, and, respectively.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday Review:

I met Ellen Gerst of Legacy Connect, through a mutual internet friend. When I found her site, I was blown away by the many services they provide to those dealing with loss and especially by her Pick-Up-Sticks theory of grief. I encourage you to visit this website, do some reading, or partake of their services. If you're not grieving yourself but know someone who is, you'll find helpful suggestions there, too.

On Monday, Ellen will be a guest blogger for Widowsphere. I'll be posting her delightful story about taking risks and reaching out after the death of her first husband. Be sure to stop by. I'm sure you'll enjoy meeting Ellen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ten Quotes and a Reminder

In keeping with my theme of resilience, I'm going to persevere in reminding readers to sign up to follow and also to tell who, in your opinion, personifies resilience, then say why in one sentence. Please humor me and do so. Thanks. And enjoy these quotes about resilience:

It always seems impossible ... until it's done.
Nelson Mandela

Action will destroy your procrastination.
Og Mandino

The only real voyage of discovery exits,
not in seeing new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.
Marcel Proust

Wanting to be someone you're not is a waste of the person you are.
Kurt Cobain

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
Helen Keller

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Mark Twain

Life is like riding a bicycle, in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.
Albert Einstein

Life is not a matter of holding good cards,
but of playing a poor hand well.
Robert Louis Stevenson

The future you see
is the future you get.
Robert G. Allen

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.
Richard Bach

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Resilience, More Important Now Than Ever

Resilience: ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

In The Resilience Factor, Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte say that human beings have four fundamental uses for resilience: 1. To overcome the obstacles of childhood;
2. To steer through everyday adversities; 3. To bounce back after a life-altering event or major trauma; 4. To reach out to lead a more fulfilling and purposeful life.

With the earthquake in Japan, the uprisings in the Middle East, the weak economy here, we need to cultivate resilience more than ever. For those of us who inhabit the Widowsphere, the search for resilience within ourselves is a constant. Where does it come from? How do we find it? Are some people blessed with a resilient nature and do others have to work at it? Do those of us who have overcome past adversities develop the resilience to pull through present ones? I've spent the last few years mulling over these thoughts. In the next few weeks I'll discuss some of my thoughts. Meanwhile....


Name a real person or a fictional character who you believe personifies resilience and explain why in one sentence.

Rules: 1. The name you choose has to be recognizable by most people. In other words, don't nominate your second cousin or your next door neighbor.

2. You must be a follower to participate, so if you're new, scroll down to the bottom of the page and sign up to follow and write New Follower by your nominee. If you're already a follower, write Already a Follower.

3. I will draw 3 names on April 4. First two prizes will be journals so you can record your own journey to resilience. Third prize will be a copy of Stranger in Her Arms by Lorna Michaels (Me).

I'm looking forward to your responses and some good discussions about resilience.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Quote for the Week

If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies.
Author Unknown

Friday, March 11, 2011

Widowhood Space

This blog post was inspired by a great site called Each week a picture related to a theme is posted and bloggers are invited to write about it, use it in a photograph or a poem or a piece of art. The theme this week was Space. The site owner posted a photograph of Earth taken from space.

But space can mean lots of things, and the word inspired me to think of the space I live in and how it has expanded and contracted over the years.

Soon after Ralph and I married we bought a house for our blended family. It was a typical suburban three-bedroom, two-bath house, but we added another kid bedroom and a master bedroom and bath in the space that took up most of the back yard. Now each child had a bedroom, plus we used one bedroom for a play room. The house was soon crammed with three children and an assortment of pets. And I do mean assortment--dog, gerbils, guinea pig, rabbit, turtles, a short-lived iguana and two mice named Timid and Brave. Yet despite the lack of yard space and the squeaking and squawking of animals along with the children's chatter, the house never seemed crowded. We had space for books and ball and bikes, including Bryan's beloved unicycle which he rode to school. When the kids were in high school, we converted our garage into a game room and bought a pool table. Now our driveway was crowded with cars, the sounds of rock music and ringing phones filled the air, and the space was just right.

Then all three left for college. Most of the time, the house was quieter, but we still needed space for school holidays and semester breaks. His first semester at UT, Michael came home from Austin on weekends, lugging his dirty laundry. Lori returned bringing Ricky, her lab rat, and Bryan deposited his coin collection in our safe.

Suddenly our children were full-fledged adults: Lori married and attending vet school at Texas A&M, Michael working for an ad agency in New York and Bryan living on his own. The house still seemed just right.

For a while, Michael and his wife and son lived with us, and Gabriella was born during their stay. Now the rooms included baby paraphernalia and elementary school supplies. Surprisingly, our house seemed the right size, although our driveway was again a bit crowded.

Michael's family moved out and for a long time, it was just Ralph and me. And Ralph's computer, which because of his work as a consultant, was a member of the family. A quiet home, with two past-middle-age occupants. Room for Ralph's endless files, a place for me to write. Perfect.

Now Ralph is gone. I inhabit this space alone, with two cats for company. I thought I wouldn't be able to stay here on my own. The house was too large for one person, too lonely. But I've gotten used to it. And though I miss Ralph every day, I don't mind being here by myself. A couple of weeks ago, some uninvited guests arrived in the attic--squirrels or possums, I don't know which. (I hope they weren't rats). The nice people from Critter Control came and repaired the many holes that some creature with sharp teeth had gnawed.

I thought about replacing the wood parts of the house with Hardee Plank (probably around $20,000) Nope. I thought about putting the house up for sale and moving somewhere smaller. Isn't this place way too big for a widow lady and her cats?

But my pictures are all hung in the right places, I have enough bookshelves for my many books, there's a room where I see a few kids for speech therapy, I'm close to everywhere I want to, I won't sell. The house is small enough and cozy. Now, as always, my space is just right.

Welcome to my home

Entry hall: 5 generations of family history in hats

Living room

Part of The Monster, Ralph's plant that I promised not to cut down

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thursday Review:

Here's my favorite site to visit when I'm in need of some uplifting words. Pick any subject, and they probably have a quote, or many, for it. Here are some samples:

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

Sorrow makes us all children again - destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet. ~James Openheim

Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty. ~Sicilian Proverb

A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost. ~Marion C. Garretty

A suburban mother's role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after. ~Peter De Vries


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quote for the Week

A pessimist sees only the dark side of the clouds, and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides, and shrugs; an optimist doesn't see the clouds at all - he's walking on them. ~Leonard Louis Levinson

Monday, March 7, 2011

Widowhood: Memories

March 1 was Ralph's birthday. He would have been 71. He wanted to spend his 65th birthday in Paris but he never made it. Instead we had a special dinner and cake at home, and two days later he entered the hospital for his stem cell transplant.

I remember other birthdays--dinners out, cake and candles, laughter. I wish we'd had more.

Wednesday I had dinner with the chaplain from M.D. Anderson. Her name, aptly, is Hope. We invited her to speak to our Death, Dying and Dessert group (Yes, there truly is such a group here, and it's great). I hadn't seen her since she spoke at Ralph's memorial service, and she told me Wednesday how much she had enjoyed getting to spend time with him, how interesting he was to talk to, what a nice guy he was. Exactly what I needed to hear this week of memories. It brightened the rest of my week and made me realize how fortunate I am to have spent 37 plus years with Ralph. Again, I wish there were more, but the memories keep me going, and I guess if they're all I can have, they're enough.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thursday Review: Paperback Swap

Are you a reader? Here's a site you should investigate. Are your bookshelves overflowing with paperbacks you haven't looked at for years? Another reason to check out this site. Do you like to save money? Reason number three.

Paperback Swap allows you to swap your old paperback books for someone else's used books. It's easy. Once you've listed a certain number, six I think, you start getting credits for every book of yours that someone requests, and it's one for one. You give one book away; you get to request one. All you have to pay for is the mailing, which is generally around $2.50. Great way to get those books you wanted to read but hated to spend money on--what my book club calls "guilty pleasures"--as well as classics in paperback, non-fiction books, kids' books, too.

I highly recommend this site.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Quote for the Week and for the month of March

Our life is March weather, savage and serene in one hour.
- - - Ralph Waldo Emerson

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