Thursday, September 29, 2011

Guest Post by Alan Jordan

Alan H. Jordan is an accomplished author with six business books, hundreds of articles, poems, and audio books to his credit. His children’s book, The Monster on Top of the Bed, has received superb reviews. His poetry has been published in major poetry journals like Mobius, The Poetry Magazine. Details about his forthcoming books may be found at

The thing about being a widow is that it's not a temporary thing. It's forever. It's not just your past that changes, all of your future dreams are cancelled. Okay, it's quite possible to build new dreams, but all of the dreams that you had for sharing your life with your husband are gone. Worse yet, if you have young children, the passing of their father wipes out their dreams, and can make them concerned about forgetting their father.

There's no easy way to deal with this situation. That's why so many widows seek professional counseling, and turn to books for solace. There are many workbooks that help children to journal about someone who passed over. My favorite ones are I Will Never Forget You, Love Never Stops and Kids Can Cope written by Emilio Parga, the founder of Solace Tree, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children go through the grieving process in a constructive, healthy way. But, if you go into a bookstore and ask the clerk to show you a book to help a child celebrate their deceased father's life, you're likely to be shown picture books that discuss death and Heaven in a gentle way. These books are fine for young children, but what about the 7 to 10 year old who understands that their father is dead, and is turning to you for help in celebrating their Dad's life? Picture books definitely don't work well for tweens and teenagers. These are children who process their grief by blogging, tagging pictures, writing on Facebook, and texting their friends. They seek inspiration, not advice, and they build their lives around a phone or smartphone. What can you do to help them?

I asked myself “What can I do to help?” Being an author, the answer that bubbled up in my mind was, “write a book that can be read on a smartphone, a book that does not tell someone what to think, but instead provides a way for each reader to discover their own answers. The result was four Kindle books. These be downloaded onto any Kindle reader, computer or more importantly for children, tweens and teenagers, onto any iPhone, Droid or smartphone, where it can opened in the click of an icon and viewed instantly, in full color, with just a couple of taps on a screen.

Learning how to use a Kindle book is easy, but you don't have to know how to do it. Your children will know, or be able to figure it out in just a minute or two. This means that they can view the book on their phone, in privacy, or that the book can be viewed on a large screen, and the entire family can discuss it. Poetry and photography are meant to be examined, to be discussed. When you view the book with your children or grandchildren, you're likely to find that it's just about impossible to not get into discussions about the beauty of the universe, the eternal nature of life, the best way to celebrate someone's life, Heaven and the heavens. Kids get this! They like not being told how to think.

I Am Here, Dad costs $.99 It combines a short, potent poem with celestial images from the Hubble Space Telescope, and it empowers children, tweens, teens and adults to celebrate the life of their father. It's a quick read, you can go through the poem and images of nebula, suns, galaxies in less than two minutes. You can also spend hours in contemplation, and for those who are interested in the science behind the pictures, there are footnotes that provide in--depth scientific explanations written by scientists, as well as a brief note explaining why I selected each image.

A companion book (also $.99) is Relax, Rejoice and Rejunvenate, Volume 1. It features an affirmation for every day of the year, an affirmation for everyday use, and spiritual photographs I personally took, on Earth, with a digital camera.

These books may just be the two dollars you've ever spent, and if you're not sure, you can download a preview of them for free from my page on the Amazon’s Kindle Store.

You can easily spend $30 or more in a bookstore, and not score as well with your kids as by buying these two Kindle books for them and yourself.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September Books of the Month

Is September almost over already? It seems to have passed without my realizing. Anyway, I have read some interesting books, and here they are:

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni. This book was chosen by the Houston Public Library as the Houston Reads selection for 2011. Each year readers throughout the city are encouraged to read and discuss the same book. One Amazing Thing is the story of a group of strangers trapped inside a passport office by an earthquake. To distract themselves, they each tell the story of one amazing thing that happened in their life. Almost a book of short stories tied together, it's a quick and, I thought, delightful read. Most of the people in my book group disagreed. It's available on Amazon (isn't everything?) so take a look.

Unmeasured Strength by Lauren Manning. This book received a lot of press around the 9/11 anniversary. The author worked on the 105th floor of the North Tower. She was running just a bit late that morning, and was about to step into the elevator when the first plane hit and a ball of fire rushed through the elevator shaft and engulfed her. This is the inspiring story of her recovery after being burned over 80% of her body. I can only imagine how painful that was. I was inspired by her courage and determination...and disappointed to learn that burn treatment hasn't advanced much since I was burned when I was in college.

John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins. An eerie book about a group of girls stranded on a remote island. A sort of female Lord of the Flies. My book club is reading them together. Personally, I prefer Lord of the Flies; in fact, it's one of my favorite books. But this one will also give you nightmares.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. This is a pretty long book, but I loved every page. It's a wide-ranging history of anything you can think of in relation to home. Though some of the content has only a slight connection to home (Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, for example), the book kept me engaged and amused. I highly recommend it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Quote for the Week

Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.
Zelda Fitzgerald

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Falling from the Sky

I am considering having a t-shirt made that says I Survived the Falling Satellite. I can't believe someone isn't already selling that one.

Truthfully, the plunging satellite was not in the forefront of my mind. I was much more concerned about the rain that finally arrived after days of drought and splattered right through my roof and into my hallway. I had to put pans up and down the hall. Do you know how gross a panful of rainwater smells? I love the smell of rain...outside. Not on my carpet.

The Houston Chronicle gave scant attention to the space debris hurtling toward Earth. Down here in Texas where football is king, we are much more concerned with the possible implosion of the Big 12. Even though I grew up in Austin and I'm a proud University of Texas graduate, I admit that the Longhorns' greed--having their own sports network, which by the way, seems to be unavailable to the majority of TV owners--caused this debacle. A & M is headed for the SEC. Who will Texas play on Thanksgiving Day? Who will we hate as much as the Aggies? Both schools will have to change their fight songs. Tradition wiped away. So who cares about tons of metal falling on our heads at such a time as this?

I certainly didn't, until I made the mistake of turning on my TV Friday night when I got into bed. There was Anderson Cooper in his cute, tight t-shirt telling us that within hours the satellite would enter Earth's atmosphere, and no one knew where it might hit. OMG, it could crash anywhere, even...right here. In. My. Bedroom. Automatically, I glanced at the ceiling. No help there. My roof would be no protection from shards of metal falling at a gazillion miles an hour. That's not how I want to die. I want a dignifed end, not a splat in the middle of the night. Oh, Anderson, why did you have to bring this up? Couldn't you talk about something more cheerful, like the economy?

Should I stay awake for what could be my last night? I didn't.

When I woke up on Saturday, everything was normal. The satellite had missed me. I hurried outside to get the newspaper. A man in San Antonio reported that he saw shiny things falling from the sky. What if they had landed on the Alamo? Unthinkable.

Actually, the Associated Press said the debris had likely fallen into the Pacific, but no one could say exactly where.

So I've survived a non-crisis. At least until next time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quote for the Week

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Memory of the Month: When the World Went Black


I love to travel. Ralph did, too, once I talked him into a trip. But in 1991 I didn't have to convince him. The minute he saw the article about the Museum of Natural Science's trip to Oaxaca, Mexico to see the upcoming solar eclipse, he was ready to sign up.

We'd been on a trip with the Museum's astronomy expert before--to Chile to see Haley's Comet--and it was great fun, watching the starry sky from the Chilean desert. Now we'd see another once-in-a-lifetime sight, a total eclipse of the sun.

Oaxaca was crowded with tourists eager for their adventure. We visited the observatory there and heard a lecture on the eclipse and the safe way to view it. Never look directly at the sun, even if it's obscured by the moon, or you're likely to be blinded, so we had special dark glasses for the viewing.

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We traveled to the impressive ruins at Monte Alban, toured the wide plaza and some of the stone buildings, then had a picnic lunch. As the time for the eclipse neared, throngs of people arrived. Nearby was a group with painted faces, drumming as they waited for the sun to disappear. My heart pounded. How had it felt, centuries ago to the Mayans and Aztecs, when suddenly the world went dark?

Gradually the light dimmed and we could see the moon moving across the sun, slowly covering it. An eerie, gray-greenish light surrounded us. We could see Jupiter, Mercury and Venus in line with the moon. A shadow passed over the valley, and the air grew cold. We stood in the dark, the drums pounding in the background, the drummers chanting in time. A minute passed, then two, then three...and the light returned.

It's a memory I'll always cherish and a special day shared with Ralph.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Recommended Site: Gotham Writers Workshop

Here's a site every writer should know about.

I came upon Gotham by chance (Hooray for Google!) when I was searching for a class on memoir writing. I came upon a treasure trove of workshops for writers at any stage in their careers. Want to be a travel writer? Screenwriter? Memoir writer? Blogger? Whatever your goal, Gotham has a workshop to fit your needs. Although some are in New York, the majority are online as well, so you can take a writing class in your pajamas (or in nothing at all if you wish). You'll get lectures, critiques by the instructor, critiques by your fellow class members, entry to a chat room set aside for your class.

I signed up for Memoir Writing I and began a memoir about my husband's last year of life, then took Memoir II and finally Advanced Memoir. Our instructor, Ana Maria Spagna, is amazing. The group of us who took the advanced class stayed in touch, continued to critique each other's work and kept up with news about each other's lives. Next month several of us are meeting in Lake Tahoe for a reuion and a class on essay writing with Ana Maria. Lake Tahoe in late October, personalized writing instruction...what could be better?

I can't promise you a trip to Lake Tahoe, but do stop by and see what Gotham has to offer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Quote for the Week: September

Here's John Updike on September. September in Houston is still pretty much like July and our leaves look like this because there's been no rain all summer, but I like to think of it this way:

"The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze."
- John Updike, September


Thanks to Nancy MacMillan for this award. Check out Nancy at And now I'm passing on this award to the following 5 bloggers:






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Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11/11: Remembering

It was an ordinary Tuesday. I woke a little late, so I was hurrying to get ready for work when Ralph came into the bedroom. He'd been working in his home office. His face stern, he strode to the TV. "You have to see this," he said.

"I don't have time; I'm running late."

"You have to watch," his said. His voice sounded strange, so I thought I'd humor him.

The TV clicked on. A New York skyscraper. Plane, fire, smoke. I dropped the shoes I'd been about to put on and stared. This couldn't be some special effects movie, it was real. "What's happening?" I asked.

"Someone's flown planes into the World Trade Center."

"An accident?"

"No." He sank down onto the bed. "Our lives will never be the same."

After a while, I couldn't watch any more. I went to work. At the preschool, parents were rushing in, grabbing their children and taking them home. Teachers were helping with backpacks and lunches. "Someone said they hit the Pentagon."

Who were "they?"

I decided to go back home. In the parking lot, I looked up. The sky was blue and cloudless, a beautiful September morning. But I didn't focus on that. I scanned for planes, listened for engine sounds, glanced fearfully at the buildings around me. I felt like a defenseless animal. What if the next plane headed to Houston?

At home, I called my business partner, then the office manager. We cancelled the rest of the day's appointments. Who would be interested in speech therapy on this day? I spent the rest of the morning in front of the television, mesmerized by scenes of carnage. How could this be happening in America?

Later that day Gayle, the office manager, and I picked up some Chinese food and brought it to a friend's house. Her husband was recuperating from surgery and we'd said we'd bring dinner. We sat together, stunned and confused, and tried to process the events of the day. We couldn't.

What is it about human beings that makes them do such evil things--bomb Pearl Harbor, invade Poland, assassinate a President? Why, when someone thinks differently or occupies a territory we want, do we resort to killing innocent people? Will we ever understand? Can we ever change?

Here's an eerie story from six months later. My partner came into my therapy room carrying a tiny blue plastic TV, part of a set of doll furniture we used with kids. "Look at this," she said and held up something we'd never noticed. The TV had a little picture pasted to the front: the Twin Towers.

I still use that set of furniture. Kids like to "turn on" the TV. And it still makes me feel creepy.

But it reminds me that we musst be vigilant so this never happens again. And that, somehow, people must learn to live and let live.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Quote for the Week...and questions it inspires

If no one knows you, then you are no one.
Dan Chaon

I found this quote at the beginning of One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni and have been pondering over its meaning. In the book, a group of people are trapped in the basement of a building after an earthquake and they spend the time telling stories about themselves.

I wonder if anyone really knows us. We show ourselves by our actions and we tell about our lives, our opinions, our thoughts, but do we ever reveal our inner selves? Don't we all carry secrets? Isn't there a secret self beneath the persona we show to the world? If you were trapped in a situation in which you might die or might be rescued and never see the people you were with again, would you tell your deepest, most personal truth?

The Ambassador of Grief and Whimsy

The Ambassador of Grief and Whimsy is actually a bunny. She belongs to Susan, who blogs at Bunny often acts as Susan's alter ego.

Like me, Susan is a widow and she has a loyal following of widows and widowers who read her blog regularly. Susan often said she wished she could visit her online friends, but that is impossible since they live in such far-flung places as Australia and England. Then she had a brainstorm: she would send Bunny in her place. Followers signed up to have Bunny visit them, and off she went around the world in what is now a well-used postage box. She has been to England, Australia, Alaska, Arizona, and most recently to me in Texas.

As soon as she arrived, in her adorable jeans, embroidered shirt and tiny backpack, I introduced Bunny to my cats. Needless to say, they were not interested in being friends, especially Toby after the night Bunny, wearing her little sleep mask, moved into his space on my bed.

Bunny was cuddly and comforting. Also helpful. She visited my speech therapy sessions and encouraged kids to talk. "She's traveling around the world, like Flat Stanley," I told one of my kids. "Wow," he said, "how does she do it?" I think he was a bit disappointed when I explained she traveled in a box from the post office.

Bunny and I took a trip to the Galleria, where she got a Don't Mess With Texas t-shirt (infant size).

Bunny has created a bond between the widows who have enjoyed her company. My thanks to Susan for her kindness in sharing Bunny with her on-line friends. You can also visit Bunny's Facebook page: look for abandoned souls.

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