Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Poetry, Art & Music

I think of myself as a prose writer. I wrote the occasional poem as a younger person, for school assignments, but it has never been my primary language. Yet I love - and I mean LOVE, memorize and sing - song lyrics of every genre, which of course are poems. And my senior project (for college graduation) incorporated a famous poem.
We were assigned a self-portrait as part of our graduation requirement. This came after I discovered that my fiance had been unfaithful; I had broken our engagement, was facing an unclear future and did not really know how to see myself. In addition, I had not gained great facility with watercolor painting (the favored medium in the art department at that time), so I had not the means to render an accurate self-portrait - but I used it anyway, which says something right there.

I decided upon an abstract composition; then, feeling it was raw and incomplete (which was in fact an accurate portrayal of my self-image at the time), I incorporated a photograph and a roughly hand-lettered fragment of a poem, because it is what came to me. It was not considered a great success by my professor, but it expressed my feelings at the time; even then, as a 21-year old fine art major, I could not suppress the urge to use language in my artwork. So perhaps there is more poetry in my soul than I know - perhaps there is in each one of us - expressed in a variety of ways, not always recognized outright as poetry.

I wrote a poem about the beach when I was a little girl. I remember - and can still see in my mind's eye - the exact place I pictured as I wrote it. I showed the poem to my grandmother, and was happily surprised to find later that she kept it in a drawer in her bedside table. I wish I knew where it was now.

Poetry has been on my mind lately for several reasons. Friends read, write and share poetry; poems appear on blogs and various other places online. I follow a caringbridge site which has exposed me to a wealth of absolutely gorgeous poetry, with which patient and family express their feelings at the end of each update. As a Core Team member of Field's End Writers' Community, poetry has come to my attention as a deep need in the community. Though perhaps not freely acknowledged in mainstream consciousness, poetry is all around us; it's a natural language of the human spirit. We seek poetry to express what may be unutterable in any other form, in our own words or those of others; this makes us feel less alone. Sometimes, these poems are set to music.

This beautiful fusion of music and poetry has been playing in my head for several days. It says a great deal to me about stopping, seeing, feeling, listening, hearing, speaking, silence and being. I hope you will enjoy it. (Video credit: YouTube)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Awe, Refreshment & Shinrin-Yoka

It’s becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times. The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others. - Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Our goal should be to...get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted...never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.Abraham Joshua Heschel
I also remember coming upon a clearing in the woods so densely overgrown that it felt depressing, for nothing seemed capable of getting through. Something in my own makeup resembled this and made me return there several times. But it was finally in winter, without its leaves, that this same clearing undressed itself as a magnificent bed of light that happened to be on the crest of a beautiful hill. It humbled me to realize that winter can be freeing, too, and that I am often overgrown with memories and reasons and twigs of mind that block me from the light. - Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
Slowing down and truly listening to the wind, birdsong, frogs croaking, running water, the sound of our own footsteps, alder leaves susurrating, fir needles whooshing like ocean waves - really hearing whatever is around us - is a gift. The sense of hearing is a gift.
Seeing the wonder of a leaf drifting on the wind, two trees growing together - entwined like passionate lovers - berries sprouting from a decaying log, moss cloaking trunks of maple and roots of upturned cedar, alders dancing, trailing fingers in a pond, ducks diving in duckweed, clouds passing overhead, ripples on water - is a gift. Seeing is a gift.
Caressed by a breeze, temperature changes, heart lifting, pulse rising in the freedom of open spaces, muscles working up and down trails, a slippery boardwalk or the crunch of stone and bark underfoot, smoothness of grass, ripple of roots, soft springiness of moss - is a gift. Feeling is a gift.
The scent of turning leaves, a salty breeze, pungence of skunk cabbage, decaying mushrooms, rain-washed trails, sap-filled pines - is a gift. The sense of smell is a gift.
The Stroll for Well-Being is teaching me that the Japanese healing intervention of Shinrin-yoka, or "walking in the forests to promote health" is effective. Nature's variety of shape, color, scent, function and form remind me that everything, at every stage of life, has its own particular beauty. We are not made to look - or be - the same as others. Each one of us has unique purpose and gifts, revealed as our lives evolve. What might be your gift, in this time and place?
The Bloedel house, viewed from the bluff

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Things Literary

book cover
http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Knitting-Yarns/
We went to a superb event on Saturday evening, hosted by Field's End. New York Times best-selling author Ann Hood came to Bainbridge Island and gave a writing workshop in the afternoon. In the evening, we gathered to hear four excellent actors read from her wonderful book, Knitting Yarns (a collection of essays, edited by Ms. Hood). After the reading, she spoke about the book, about her life, and about how she came to be interested in knitting; she was gracious, funny, witty, and engaging. After that, we gathered in the bistro next door for a fun, informal reception and book-signing.

Ann Hood is also the author of Comfort, a memoir about her life after the passing of her daughter, Grace. I read it after Katie died; it was a deep, beautifully written, stirring book. Who could have guessed that I might have the privilege of meeting its author a few years later, of looking her in the eyes and telling her, mother to mother, that I had been moved by her work?

Knitting Yarns is about so much more than knitting - its stories include family, life-changes, pets, community, gender roles and more. Gregg and I laughed until we cried, nodded in agreement, and listened with pleasure as each actor brought to life the voice of a character who had something vital to say about the craft of knitting. Do check it out, even if you are not a knitter.

Being a new member of the Field's End Core Team is already enriching my life and stimulating my imagination. Everyone has been welcoming, and I am excited about the possibilities ahead. If you live locally, check out the upcoming offerings at www.fieldsend.org!
My grandfather, Morton, in the library
Meeting Ann Hood is one of many serendipitous things that have happened since I started working through The Artist's Way (serendipity is one of the effects predicted by Julia Cameron, author of AW). I have been busy writing, listening, studying, observing, and reflecting. My (waking and sleeping) dream-life is richer than it was before - another of Julia Cameron's predictions for those who are practicing The Artist's Way. 
Nana Emilie in the library
Memories swim up to the surface from deep down in the depths of consciousness. Perhaps this is why, today, I remembered a small item which used to sit on my grandfather's desk in his library. He and my grandmother were avid readers and book collectors.
Morton's desk
It was a ceramic paperweight, very simple, made in the shape of an open book. Someone had written these words in rough black letters on the white-glazed pages:
Do more than look; observe.
Do more than read; absorb.

I wish I had thought to keep this paperweight after my grandparents' passing. I read the words dozens of times, and yet forgot all about it - until today. Wondering where the quote originated, I looked online, and Google revealed the source:
Do more than exist; live.
Do more than touch; feel.
Do more than look; observe.
Do more than read; absorb.
Do more than hear; listen.
Do more than listen; understand.
Do more than think; ponder.
Do more than talk; say something.
- John H. Rhoades
Wise words, suggesting an intentional approach to living - to move beyond the superficial and go a step farther, deeper.

This led to a search for photos of the home where my mother grew up. The house is still standing, but the property has been subdivided, so the orchard is gone.
My grandmother designed this house in every detail (with an architect's help), including the recycled brick
The entry hall, with portrait of my great-great grandmother
The staircase my mother descended on her way to her wedding in the garden
My brother and me with Nana Emilie on the south side of  the garden.
Living room
More living room
I loved this house for its exquisite, understated beauty; it informed and shaped my taste in furnishings and interior design, and inspired me to study the subject. 
And yet more living room
I'm grateful to my grandparents for their love of books, beauty, education, culture and their appreciation of all of the arts, which they freely shared with us. I'm thankful to have happy memories of this house - including the recently rediscovered wisdom of John H. Rhoades.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Stroll for Well-Being

I'm participating in a pilot program at a local nature preserve (the Bloedel Reserve) called "Stroll for Well-Being." You may know that I'm an avid walker and love reflective reading and writing, and all of these elements came together when a friend posted on facebook about this opportunity to try the program here for the first time. It is already in place at the Morikami Garden in Florida.

Two dedicated women - one a professor of nursing and the other a professor in environmental studies, outlined the purpose and function of the program. It is inspired, and a pleasure to be part of the "beta test."
Yes, that's the family home; the Bloedels were once "timber barons."
The Bloedel Reserve is a local treasure. Sometimes, I take it for granted, as our family has property - and I now live - nearby. It is open for membership, and it is worth the fee, whether you join or just visit. The Bloedel family home - large for a house, small for a chateau - is graceful and beautiful, and gives a stately sense of "heart" to the property.

The 150 acres of grounds, filled with indigenous and imported plants, are best appreciated in silence, and the Strolls - mapped out in a beautiful journal which includes 12 themes, many inspiring photographs, quotes, and marked places to stop, reflect and write within each - are designed to take full advantage of the refreshment offered by nature.
Sharing this refreshment was a core value for Mr. Bloedel as he established and developed the property.

The reserve has structures which blend harmoniously with the plantings. The Japanese Tea House and Garden, the Orchid Woods and Puget Sound Overlook, the Bird Marsh, Trestle Bridge and Boardwalk, the Moss Garden and Reflection Pond are all integrated into the themes of the strolls.
There are a great variety of plants, trees, benches and water features, wide and narrow spaces, winding paths, stairs, textures, scents, colors, vistas and sounds to stimulate the senses.
In the past, I have loved to walk (fast) for fitness. Because of health issues which arose during the summer months, I have been forced to slow down and focus less on fitness. It became necessary to focus, with increasing patience and gentleness, on nurturing wellness within, as back pain, root canal and infection, ear surgery and recovery took turns demanding my attention during the later weeks of summer and early fall. I am truly grateful to say that I am finally able to walk a couple of miles at a time; my jaw and ear and graft are healing nicely. The Stroll for Well-Being could not have come at a better time!

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Lovely Fall Weekend

We had a beautiful weekend, after a week of intermittent rain showers heralded the end of summer.
Gregg and I took a drive up to one of our favorite towns and visited their farmers' market. It was the perfect day to do so.
The flowers and vegetables were radiant with color, especially brilliant in the early autumn light.
We bought organic vegetables for our dinner, and a couple of freshly-baked snacks to eat then and there. We sat down to enjoy some live music while we ate. A farmer's market can be a great place for local people-watching.
I am having a lot of fun playing with photos on Instagram. It is an easy-to-use application which brings out the best in simple digital photos which have been taken on a phone.
After listening to a few songs, we walked through town, admiring gardens, cottages, and grand houses adorned with Victorian ornamental details. We took in the view of the sea from uptown, then walked down to the docks to enjoy the variety of boats afloat on crystal-clear water. We breathed in the fresh air, window-shopped, and bought locally-made gifts, then stopped for a cup of freshly-brewed coffee and a slice of homemade pie.

On our way home, we stopped by another small harbor town and walked along the shoreline, soaking up the late-afternoon sunshine and admiring the variety of boats in the marina. It was a perfect date.
I'm glad that after more than 23 years of marriage (including a lot of life's ups and downs), we still love to go on dates together. I don't take Gregg's excellent company for granted. He is quite entertaining, in addition to being solid, intelligent, interesting, loving and true.

Last night, we joined my parents in their home for dinner with friends.
 We had some great laughs together.
 I love that photograph - my mom is out of control with hilarity!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

#BTFBenefit2014 and the Number 10

Reba, Gregg, Lynora, Daniel, me, Jim & Caroline
Something absolutely wonderful happened on Friday evening. We gathered with friends and family among 1,700 people to celebrate the tremendous achievements of the Ben Towne Foundation's first five years in existence.
Reba and Bill
Two members of the TEAM BTF Ride Across America Team
In the space of 10 minutes, over $1,600,000 was raised to support childhood cancer research at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, with the help of Joel McHale, who hosted and kept us all laughing.
Reba, Joel and me
As always, Carin and Jeff Towne and Dr. Michael Jensen spoke movingly, beautifully and with passion about their mission. A brief video shared the story of one of the most recent recipients of Dr. Jensen's T-cell therapy.


In addition to the wonderful sum raised that night, we celebrated these milestones:
- two clinical trials were launched for T-cell treatment of leukemia
- a third clinical trial is ready for submission, for the treatment of neuroblastoma
- 10 PATIENTS ARE IN REMISSION! Stop right there. 
 Ten patients who had experienced relapse, who had no other treatment options - whose hope for a cure was completely exhausted, and were facing death - those ten children are now in remission.

Ten families are not heartbroken today - parents, siblings, extended family and community - have their precious, beloved child with them. Ten families did not have to sign "do not resuscitate" forms, did not have to request hospice care, did not have to plan a memorial service, pick a headstone, face an empty bedroom.

Ten.

I was so happy Friday night that I could not go to sleep.

In no way does this great accomplishment reduce the pain of missing Katie, or change the fact of her absence in our home, our lives and and in our future. And yet...
And yet, for me, this is a kind of justice for her killer. This is arresting the culprit. This is going to prevent this tragedy from being repeated, over and over again.

Not only that, but T-Cell treatment does not endanger the future life of the patient, because it does not cause organ damage, reproductive damage, hearing loss or secondary cancers, the way that traditional chemotherapy and radiation do. This treatment uses the body's own immune system to heal itself, and the possibilities for its use are endless.

With research, it can be applied to different kinds of cancer, and to adults, as well as to children. All we need to do is continue to find funding for the work to continue and expand.

Tonight, some parent who thought their child was going to die, is instead going to tuck her into bed, and kiss and hug her "good night." It won't be me and my daughter, yet I am happy for that family - for all ten of those families who have received this gift from Dr. Michael Jensen and his research team at the Ben Towne Center. We will continue to support this work through the Katie Gerstenberger Endowment for Cancer Research, and through the Ben Towne Foundation, and in any other way we can.
My friend Lynora and her son Daniel came all the way from Alaska to join us!
Lynora, Reba and me - as Reba says, "Mothers in Arms"
I am asking you to help us spread the word about this, and - if you are able - to join us in supporting it. 

100% of every penny and dollar which you donate to the Ben Towne Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research goes to research. There is not one cent of overhead cost deducted from your donation; every bit goes to funding research. Please share this happy news with your community, and join us! As Ben used to say, "Come on, everybody!"

*if you are an Instagram user, you can see more photos of the event at #BTFBenefit2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

"You Never Know How Much Good You Do"

I am a regular reader of Stephanie Nielsen's NieNie Dialogues. Today, I read one of her posts which contained a message that moved me to tears. It takes about 8 minutes to watch; I encourage you to make time to do so, because it will remind you of the value in even the smallest (perhaps invisible) moments of our daily lives.

I am deeply, tearfully thankful that, in spite of all of the difficulties we face (as Americans, and as citizens of the world), we are free in this land to worship as we are led by conscience. I wish this freedom for all who long for it, and especially for those who are persecuted for it.

I am thankful that, though I am not a member of the Mormon church or the Catholic church or a Jewish synogogue or a Muslim mosque, I am free to read, listen and learn from the best of any or all traditions, as I am led, and to be blessed by the goodness in all children of our Heavenly Father/Mother.

Whatever name is natural to us by which to call on Him/Her, if we dare to realize that the River of Love is flowing through all creation, we may see that it flows for everyone, and we can step into it and be blessed together.
I guess you could say that my "religion" is love; Love is what I worship and strive to practice in daily living. That is not to say that I succeed in every way, or every day - far from it. But I am a sister of all who worship God, who is Love.

You may never know whose life you touch today with your smallest, simplest act of kindness. I hope this little video message, eight minutes long, encourages you in love. Thank you, NieNie, for encouraging me!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blogging (and All Writing) is Good for You

Did you see this article? My friend (the multi-talented photographer, writer, painter and actress) Diane Walker shared it with me. It's true, for me and many others I know, who have written and blogged their way through some of the darkest times of their lives.

Writing is also a wonderful way to express joy and gratitude, and that is therapeutic as well. What is your form of self-expression? Is it painting, theater, gardening, singing, dance, running, drawing, sports? What do you do when you're at the boiling point? What do you do when you're overflowing with joy?

The important thing - in my opinion - is not to keep grief or anger bottled up, under pressure, but to find a constructive expression - a way to let it out that does no harm to you or others. There are times when expressing the deepest, darkest, most powerful feelings can bring healing to me and to others. Very simply put: when I share my feelings, others know that they are not alone. When you tell me that something I write resonates with you, I know that I am not alone.
I found this gem at a 2nd hand store - the Children's Hospital Bargain Boutique on Bainbridge Island - when we were out taking a walk before a dinner date. It is the original 1961 English translation of the French classic (which was written in the 1930s). It is considered the definitive encyclopedia of gastronomic science and history. So exciting!
In recent days, I have been spending my writing energy on the "Morning Pages" for the Artist's Way. My back is slowly recovering strength. I have had two root canal procedures which have kept me from feeling tip-top, but have forced me to rest, allowing my back to heal further. In the near future, there is the Ben Towne Foundation Benefit, and then a two-day minor surgery to remove a "beauty mark" (I prefer to think of it as a "beauty mark" rather than a "mole") and a skin graft to repair the area. After that, I will be keeping quiet for a few more weeks, and looking forward to a more active life after recovering. Meanwhile, the view from here is always changing...
This ship belongs to the cruise line for which David is working. It sails in and out of our town's harbor about once a week in the warm months.
Bird prints on our beach
Summer moonrise
Dramatic moonrise
Double rainbow in the midst of a summer shower
Wishing you a happy weekend!

Friday, September 12, 2014

New Price for Kindle Edition

I just lowered the price of the Kindle version of "Because of Katie," and enrolled it in the Kindle Matchbook program. If you buy a print copy, you will have the opportunity to buy the Kindle version for just $2.99. At some point, I may write an updated version of it, but for now, I want to lower the Kindle price.

I would love it if everyone would shop at their locally-owned, independent bookstore! But if you don't have one, or they won't order the print version of the book for you, here are two options:
click on Liberty Bay Books and they will help you, or
you can click HERE and get the Kindle Edition for just $2.99 when you buy the new print edition of this book. Learn more about

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Employment, etc.

This is Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, WA, NOT New England - but it sure resembles the photos that David is sending!
David is working as a deckhand for American Cruise Lines, along the New England coast. This company operates small cruise ships in United States' waters, including rivers and coastal areas. He is learning and putting in a lot of hours, on the decks, at the helm (under the captain's and mate's supervision), driving the launch and standing gangway watch. I can't think of many jobs better suited to a young man just out of college (who has worked four summers on a local cruise line) than this one. We are happy and proud of him for taking on this adventurous job, as he continues to look for a permanent one in his field of study (criminal justice, with a minor in business).

Another reason that we are happy for David is the fact that his senior thesis has been published in the Journal of Law and Criminal Justice. It was interesting to me that his class was structured so that each thesis was written cooperatively (they worked in pairs). David and his writing partner functioned well as a team, and their professor thought so highly of the completed work that she suggested they submit it for publication. With a few suggested edits/additions from her, they did; it was accepted - and we just received the happy news. I hope that this will help a potential employer to see beyond the online resume and forms which are standard in the job market today.

It seems so difficult to communicate who you are, using electronic application forms! Back in the day, I enjoyed creating a resume and cover letter - selecting fonts and formatting, deciding which paper to use - and enjoyed the interview process, too. But nowadays, how do human resources decision-makers differentiate one from all of the others, when so much is done electronically? My heart goes out to young graduates - to all job-seekers - in this electronic age!

We've had a gorgeous, sunny summer, during which I've continued to study the Artist's Way. Every morning, I get up and write - longhand, per the instructions - and do the exercises, sitting outdoors, whenever possible.
I'm not the only one who likes to sit on the deck, but at least I don't sit on the picnic table - Liger does.
In addition to being filled with wisdom and challenging ideas, the book and its exercises are bringing up a lot of information from within me, including unrealized truths and dreams that I have not dared to voice. I would recommend the Artist's Way to anyone who is willing to devote time and honest attention to it, even if each chapter takes longer than just a week. Due to our vacation, taking care of my back and now a root canal procedure, I am going at my own pace, but the timing doesn't matter. The book is blessing me, and it is worth taking the time to do the work thoroughly rather than at an arbitrary pace. Thanks for reminding about it, Shelby!
I learned this week that Field's End Writers' Community would like me to offer WORD SOUP© again in 2015. I am thrilled, and already looking forward to it.

Speaking of Field's End, if you live in this area, please visit the website and consider attending one of the classes or events that are being offered! For example: an evening with bestselling author and editor Ann Hood as she presents "Knitting the Arts Together,”  leading a troupe of actors in reading excerpts from Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting. The event will take place on Saturday, October 18th from 7:00 to 9:00 PM, at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art Auditorium, at 550 Winslow Way East (the corner of 305 & Winslow—walk up from the ferry).