Book Review: How To Stop Time

Book Review written by Mary Jedlicka Humston

The books Mary and I typically review contain themes dealing with friendship or letter writing. The novel How to Stop Time by Matt Haig doesn’t have either. Instead, readers become privy to the sad effects of characters living without the steady presence of loved ones and friends.

how to stop time
Haig’s time-travel sci-fi novel masterfully creates a diagnosis of anageria for his main character Tom Hazard. Anageria is a rare, unique condition where growing older happens so slowly that one’s appearance remains young despite their age.
That’s the opposite of progeria which is a real genetic disease affecting 1 out of 4 million births according to a study from the Netherlands listed on Wikipedia. With progeria, infants age prematurely, forcing children and teens into elderly men and women despite being decades younger.
To add credence to the anageria reality in this novel, Haig explains that this condition that Tom and a small number of others possess never became public knowledge. Let me explain one reason why. Tom was born in 1581 in France and bounces around in time and country. In his first “round” he is raised by a wonderful mother. He later marries and has a child, but fears for their lives when witchcraft suspicions are bandied about because Tom’s youthful appearance never changes.

When tragedy strikes, Tom shields himself from the pain of relationships by trying to avoid them altogether. This creates conflicts in present-day England where Tom chooses to teach history, of all subjects, at the high school level!

“Yes, there had been a void inside me, but voids were underrated. Voids were empty of love but also pain. Emptiness was not without its advantages. You could move around in emptiness.” (Page. 233-234).

This book intrigued me to the end with its many plot twists. I believe it will do the same for others who want to see what happens when a character lives within a void of friendships and loved ones.

I highly recommend it even if you’re not a sci-fi lover. Give a try.

Spoiler alert: There is a happy ending!

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One week in…National Card and Letter Writing Month

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How could I have let a week of April go by without mentioning that this month is National Card and Letter Writing month? The U.S. Postal Service officially designated it so in 2001 “to raise awareness of the importance and historical significance of card and letter writing.”

Neither Mary needs a month dedicated to letter-writing to coax them into writing letters, but we certainly couldn’t let the month go by without some mention on our blog that is dedicated to letter-writing, friendship, and good books.

Speaking of blogging, this Mary (Mary PK) is headed to a blogging panel at the Cedar Falls library this afternoon.

blogging panel

I began my Mary Potter Kenyon blog in June 2009, nearly nine years ago. The blog tagline was “Housewife Writer Dishes on Writing,” and I mostly wrote about mothering, couponing, and well…writing.  My youngest child would turn six the following month, which coincidently would also be when I began work on a book that would become Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession.  I’ve signed six book contracts in the ensuing years, so this “housewife” must have been doing something right on the writing front. Now my blog is also my website, with the inelegantly dubbed heading; “Author, Public Speaker, Workshop Presenter.” I began another blog, “Crazy Couponer: Tales from the Dark Side of Couponing” in anticipation for the release of that book, sharing pieces of my work-in-progress, (yes, Virginia, there is a dark side to couponing, and you can read about it in my book) along with stories and photos of my own super savings shopping trips and my transition from coupon box to coupon binder.  That was a fun blog to maintain, but a person only has so much time, and with two new books coming out in 2014, something had to give.

And sometimes, that something is blogging. This blog, “Mary & Me,” was created in November 2014, in anticipation of Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink, with the post-writing duty shared by my co-author. I expect it will keep going as long as we have books to review and letter-writing and friendship topics to share.

On that “note,” isn’t it time you celebrated April by writing a letter of your own?

Expressive Writing for Healing

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Mary’s poetry, age 16

I have a history of writing my way through difficult periods in my life, with angst-ridden poetry in my teens, through a manuscript I completed during my husband’s cancer treatment in 2006, and blogging about grief after my mother’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death in 2010. I’d assumed the reason I turned to the journaling format as I mourned my husband in 2012 was because it came naturally as a writer. Weeks into my grief journey, however, I wondered how anyone could survive the experience without writing about it.
Through research, I discovered that expressive writing can be a powerful healing tool for anyone, not just writers. Dr. James Pennebaker, Regents Centennial Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, is often lauded as the pioneer in studying expressive writing as a route to healing. He discusses his findings in Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressive Emotions, revealing how short-term, focused writing can have a beneficial effect for anyone dealing with stress or trauma.

pennebaker
In his original study in the late 1980s, college students wrote for twenty minutes on four consecutive days about the most traumatic or upsetting experiences of their lives, while control subjects wrote about superficial topics. Those in the experimental group showed marked improvement in immune-system functioning and had fewer visits to the health center in the months following the study.

Pennebaker’s original expressive writing paradigm has been replicated in hundreds of studies since then, each measuring different potential effects of expressive writing. Not only has subsequent research confirmed his original finding regarding physical well-being, writing about emotionally charged topics has also been shown to improve mental health, reducing symptoms of depression or anxiety. This has proven true in studies with those who have experienced loss, veterans experiencing PTSD, as well as cancer patients. Expressive writing is now an accepted holistic and nonmedicinal method for wellness.

expressive writing
For anyone new to expressive writing, I include these suggestions for beginning the practice in my newly-released journal Expressive Writing for Healing and through the workshops I conduct:
1. Choose a notebook or journal that fits your personality, that you can comfortably write in. A beautiful leather-bound journal might be too intimidating to begin with. Perhaps it will be a journal with a cover that has special meaning to you; a butterfly, dragonfly, or a Bible verse. Or maybe you’ll prefer to begin with a simple notebook with pages that can easily be torn out. Just the physical act of handwriting can be therapeutic, but if you are more comfortable writing on a computer, that works too.
2. There are no rules for journal writing. Cross out sentences, scribble on the sides of the paper, doodle or draw on the pages. Don’t worry about sentence structure or grammar. This writing is for you and not an audience. You can’t help yourself if you’re holding back, afraid to be honest about what you’re feeling. Feelings and emotions can be messy, so it’s perfectly fine if your journal is, too.
3. Write down your dreams, both literal and figurative. Do you have dreams and desires for your future? Write them down. In a couple of years, you may look back and see some of those dreams have become reality. Our subconscious also works hard at processing significant changes in our life. Have you had any particularly vivid nighttime dreams? Write those down, too. I’ve solved daytime dilemmas and come up with wonderful ideas in my dreams, so I like to keep a notebook by the bed to jot them down.
4. If you are reading inspirational books or articles, copy passages or quotes that speak to you. When I read something particularly inspiring or uplifting that resonates with me, I copy pertinent passages or quotes in my journal. I’ve often referred to those past journals and can still find inspiration and encouragement from the words I chose to transcribe. C.S. Lewis once wrote “We read to know we are not alone.”
5. Date your journal entries and try to end them on a positive note. Can you find even one thing to be grateful for each time you journal? By ending your journal entry on a positive note—with words of thanks or perhaps a prayer—you are training yourself to consciously choose joy and gratitude. Some people like to keep a separate gratitude journal, listing little blessings and good things that happen each day. This practice works because it forces you to intentionally focus your attention on grateful thinking, eliminating unwanted, ungrateful thoughts and guarding against taking things or people for granted. You want gratitude to become a habit, so practicing it in your journal helps that happen.

Mary graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a BA in Psychology. A certified grief counselor and founder of the annual Heal Your Grief retreat in Dubuque, Iowa, Mary conducts Expressive Writing for Healing workshops for churches, libraries, community colleges or grief support groups. Contact her at marypotterkenyon@gmail.com for more information. 

 

Book Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

by Mary Jedlicka Humston

If you haven’t read Me Before You or the sequel After You by Jojo Moyes, you will still find the newest Louisa Clark (Lou) novel filled with Moyes’ trademark humor, emotion, and engrossing storyline.

still me

Readers of Still Me can’t helped but be swept away by scrappy Lou’s (mis)adventures as she paves a new life in the U. S. far from her British home.
Hired to assist and cater to the young, new wife of the uber-rich Mr. Gopnik, Lou finds herself thrust into the elite, superior society of the very, very wealthy. Yet, she is still Lou; comfortable with everyone from the doorman to the women who own a vintage clothing store to protesters trying to save a dying public library.
There’s also Margot DeWitt, a cranky neighbor with an overbearing, tiny but tenacious dog. Lou discovers everything isn’t always as it seems when it comes to Margot.
Along the way, Lou seems to lose a little bit of herself. Letters from the past, written by Will who is a main character in the book and movie Me Before You, come to her at the right time. The letters (sent by Will’s mom) end up reminding Lou to look beyond the “outer” person into the “inner soul” to realize what’s important in life.
Regular readers of this “Mary & Me” blog know that we Marys often review books that pertain to friendship and letter writing. This book combines both. I highly recommend it.
Enjoy!

Book Review: Power to Be, by Twila Belk

“If I keep my attention on my problems and heartaches they become overwhelming to me and tend to control my life. But if I fix my thoughts on God, he becomes magnified in my heart and mind, and I’m reminded of who he is and what he’s able to do.”

So writes my friend Twila Belk in her newest devotional, The Power to Be: A 40-Day Devotional: Be Still, Be Grateful, Be Strong, Be Courageous.  I met Twila at a writer’s conference a couple of years ago, and felt as though I was meeting a long-lost sister.

power to be

This lovely little book doesn’t have to be utilized as a 40-day devotional. I finished it in one evening, copying down quotes that inspired or encouraged me. I have the same wall plaque she mentions hanging in her living room, though mine is in my bedroom.
Happy moments- praise God. Difficult moments- seek God. Quiet moments- worship God. Painful moments- trust God. Every moment- Thank God.
Knowing the difficulties the author has experienced in her life gives credence to her words. It doesn’t get more real than this.
I happened to pick up The Power to Be exactly when I needed it, as I’m facing some challenges in my own life. I love the quotes and the Bible verses, including my current life verse Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your path.

This book would make a wonderful gift for Mother’s Day, or a pick-me-up for someone you know who is going through a difficult time.
Learn more about the author at www.gottatellsomebody.com

Postage stamps as art~

If you’ve never seen their lovely magazine, Chip and Joanna Gaines produce the quarterly The Magnolia Journal,  devoted to fresh inspiration for your life and your home. The Spring 2018 issue includes an article on letter-writing.

Magnolia article0002.jpg“Setting aside time to write a letter to loved ones is a tangible way to show them that you care; however, this thoughtful act is just as beneficial to the writer,” the article states, a truth well-known to readers of Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink.

One suggestion made is to beautify your letters with the use of vintage stamps. Were you aware it is legal to utilize vintage unused postage stamps in mailing letters? I’ve been doing that for more than a year now, ever since I discovered “lots” of vintage stamps on eBay, for less than the face value of the postage. So, not only do my envelopes look more interesting, I’m saving money. My latest find was a lot of stamps with a face value of $50, for just $36. Just type in “discount postage” or “unused postage stamps” if you are interested in getting some stamps for your own use.

My latest find~$50 worth of unused postage stamps for just $36 on eBay.

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Someone Else’s Story on Valentine’s Day

A friend gave me this journal Monday night, saying it made her think of me. She didn’t remember where she got it, but she knew I’d appreciate the inscription from a Kate to her grandmother on the front endpaper. She was right, though I couldn’t help but lament Grandma’s decision to sell or donate her granddaughter’s gift.

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My friend Sue couldn’t have known that I’d filled my journal the day before, and I wanted one with some inspirational sayings in it for my next journal. It wasn’t until  I got it out of my tote bag this morning that I noticed “Grams” had used it. There was a single page filled out, dated 2-14-2000. Eighteen years ago today. How apt I would come across this message eighteen years after it was written, on a holiday I avoid thinking much about since my husband’s death. 

courage journal2Grams believed it took courage to take pen in hand and begin writing. There is a grain of truth to that. Every writer who faces down a blank sheet of paper or empty computer screen and begins writing is brave. Grams never wrote in the journal again. It takes courage, discipline, and hard work to keep on writing despite rejections, time constraints, and the inevitable disruptions life throws our way.

Everyone has a story to tell. I don’t know Grams’ but can infer from her writing she was not married in 2000.  Sadly, if she wanted candy for Valentine’s Day, she had to stop at Fannie Mae and buy it for herself.  As stories go, this one points to a happy ending; Frank has invited her to five plays and dinner at a country club.

And that last line holds poignant hope for both writer and reader.

“How wonderful to hear someone say ‘you’re worth it.”   

 

 

 

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Book Review: Becoming Madeleine

Despite it being hailed as a middle-school age biography, readers of our blog will love this book; letters, postcards, journal entries, friendship. You’ll find all of this, and much more in this delightful book.

Anyone who has read Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink  or has followed my other blog Mary Potter Kenyon for any length of time will know Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite authors, not for the fiction she is most famous for, but her Crosswick Journals series. One of my first blog posts was about her influence on my writing and my marriage way back in 2009.

I was in my late 30’s when I read A Circle of Quiet, identifying with the writer who was also a mother, a woman who “escaped” the cacophony of a noisy household to burn garbage in the back yard. I often did the same. Her thoughts on the craft have been very influential in my writing:

“To work on a book is for me very much the same thing as to pray. Both involve discipline. If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not apt to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.” (Walking on Water, page 140)

Because it was about caring for her husband during his cancer, I read Two-Part Invention while my husband underwent cancer treatment in 2006. I was devastated by Madeleine’s loss. It was the first book I read after David died in 2012. Madeleine walked me through those first steps of the dark unknown of grief. 

“Now I am setting out into the unknown. It will take me a long while to work through the grief. There are no shortcuts; it has to be gone through.” (Two-Part Invention, page 228)

Madeleine L’Engle’s words touched my heart and soul so deeply, I mentioned her several times in my book  Refined By Fire; A Journey of Grief and Grace. Her granddaughter Lena graciously wrote a blurb endorsement.

“Mary Kenyon’s Refined by Fire reminds me of my grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle, who taught so many of us that writing can be a form of prayer that leads us to grace. I was moved to read how her influence inspired Mary to write and heal as well. Mary’s writing style is extremely accessible, and her voice raw, authentic and brave. By the end I was crying with her. I would definitely recommend her book to anyone who is going through any type of loss.”-  Léna Roy, granddaughter of Madeleine L’Engle

So it was with much anticipation I awaited the publication of Lena and her sister Charlotte’s biography of their grandmother, Becoming Madeleine.

madelieneMarketed as a middle grade biography, don’t let that stop you from reading it. This delightful book speaks to the hearts of writers and wannabe writers, as well as Madeleine L’Engle fans. It includes photographs, poems, letters and journal entries from Madeleine’s childhood, teens, and through her successes (and failures!) as a writer. I felt a real thrill of delight when I saw the photo of Crosswicks, as if spotting a favorite place. I couldn’t bear to highlight anything in this lovely book so marked pages  I want to return to with sticky notes instead.

I was fascinated by the mind of the young Madeleine, her mature insights. From her journal, at losing her beloved grandmother she called Dearma;

“I think this has been my passing from childhood into girlhood, because as mother says, though I am fifteen, I have really been a child all these years. And I read in another book that a person is never dead until you have forgotten then, so Dearma can never be dead to me, because I will never forget her.”

Then there is her reaction to a rejection from Good Housekeeping for a poem she’d sent at age 16. She not only added the rejection letter to her journal, on the opposite page, she’d written “I got this delightful little refusal from Good Housekeeping today & my poem was returned all dirtied. Someday Good Housekeeping will ask me to write poems for it!! 

There were a few surprises. While I’d known about the loss of her husband through the Crosswicks Journal series, I hadn’t realized she’d lost a son years later. When I read that, I wanted to pick up pen and paper to write her a letter. Which just goes to show you; the true power of a good biography is that it brings the subject alive. 

“We don’t want to feel less when we have finished a book; we want to feel that new possibilities of being have been opened to us. We don’t want to close a book with a sense that life is totally unfair and that there is no light in the darkness; we want to feel that we have been given illumination.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Thank you, Léna and Charlotte. You have managed to bring illumination to this famous writer’s life who just happened to be your grandmother. I hope you have already considered the possibilities in working on an adult biography, as well.

So Close to Goal…Book Giveaway 1-20

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Expressive Writing for Healing by Mary Potter Kenyon

Expressive Writing for Healing

by Mary Potter Kenyon

Giveaway ends February 28, 2018.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

If you aren’t on Goodreads, and want to win a free copy of Expressive Writing for Healing, continue reading.

One of my goals for 2018 is to grow my social media outreach, as my Expressive Writing for Healing journal comes out this year.  I’m setting up workshops on the topic, as well as Legacy of Creativity workshops in conjunction with the book I’m working on now. You can see my upcoming events HERE.

As part of that outreach, I’d like to hit 500 followers on my Mary Potter Kenyon Author Page. Anyone who LIKES my page will be entered in a random drawing for a signed copy of Expressive Writing for Healing AND a $10 Target gift card.

Don’t worry, if you LIKED my page in the last week, before you saw this post, I’ll check my notifications and add your name to the random drawing as well. I’ll choose one name on January 20th for a free advance copy of my upcoming journal and $10 Target gift card. If you already like my page, you can still win. Just go to my Author page, look for this blog post, and SHARE it! I’ll check Share notifications as well, and your name will be entered, too. LIKE AND SHARE, and double your chances!  So what are you waiting for? Go to my Author Page now, and help me meet my goal of 500 LIKES.

Merry Mary New Year~

“I’ll need to go in my office and write for a few minutes at midnight,” I informed my daughters last night as we watched television. “I’d once heard that whatever you are doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve is how you’ll spend the rest of the year, so I want to be writing.”

If that superstition holds true, I’ll be sleeping through most of the year, as I woke up to laughter five minutes after it began. I’d fallen asleep! Turns out, I had that superstition wrong. The point is to actually be doing something related to your employment on the first day of the new year. By doing it well, but not working too hard, you’ll do your job well and not be overworked the rest of the year.

I’m not sure if writing for seven consecutive hours today constitutes working “too hard,” but I hope it bodes well for productivity the rest of the year. While I’ve been employed part-time as librarian since March, it’s my writing and workshops I’ve been concentrating on over the holidays.

A year ago, I was miserable in a job that should have been perfect for me; getting paid to go to work every morning and write as a newspaper reporter.  Now employed part-time, I spend my free mornings writing what I want to write. Last year, that meant finishing up a journal that will be released this April.

Expressive Writing for Healing

Since signing a book contract in November, I’m also working on a book about creativity. The seeds of this book were planted in my heart a long time ago, shortly after my mother passed away in 2010. She left behind many notebooks and journals that made it clear her greatest wish for her children was that they get to Heaven and utilize their talents. Her words became a catalyst for change in my creativity and faith. The winter after her death, I embarked on what would become one of the most creative periods of my life up to that point. In her empty house, I found solitude and solace, a private writing retreat. There, I worked on a book manuscript, wrote articles and essays, prepared couponing and writing workshops and designed a power point presentation on creativity. I also began a file folder on creativity, certain it would someday become a book in honor of my creative mother. It could be said that grief was the impetus to taking my writing seriously, the legacy of my mother as my muse. My work in progress opens with her words.

“Our main purpose on earth is to save our soul and try to do the will of God in all things. That also means using the talents he gave us, and using them for good.”

I pulled out that old file folder in March. By late June, I’d completed the book proposal. A lot of research went on in-between; on the science behind creativity, the link between creativity and health and happiness, and the spiritual aspect of creativity. (After all, how can we talk about creativity without mentioning The Creator?)

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A few of my favorites~

I’ve continued doing research as I delve into the different topics. The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer and Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle were old favorites that I re-read. World Enough & Time I borrowed from my sister Joan and read on the airplane on the way home from visiting her in Florida. The Art of Creative Living by Thomas Kinkade was one of the last books my mother had read in the summer of 2010.

By late summer, all this reading and writing about creativity led me to begin a Lifelong Learner’s Creativity group at the library where I work. Many of the women who joined weren’t exactly sure what they wanted to gain from it, but something in the description appealed to a restless, unnamed feeling stirring within them.
“Perhaps you were the daydreamer in grade school, the child staring out the window with a head full of stories, or the one reading books from your lap beneath the desk. Then someone snatched the box of crayons from your hand, insisting you’d done it all wrong; that trees weren’t pink, and bunnies weren’t purple, and you’d gone outside the lines. Or maybe they pulled the book out from beneath your desk, telling you it was time for math, not reading. Whether you’re ready to reignite your childhood passion for all things creative, and want your crayons back, or are looking for a way to connect with your inner artist and others who think outside of the box, a new group forming at the James Kennedy Library might be of interest.”

Our circle now serves as a focus group of sorts, representing my target audience. We’ve already done several of the activities I suggest in my book. This month we’ll be painting on canvas, and next month we’ll envision what our more creative life looks like with Vision Boards.

In the same vein, I’m incorporating creativity exercises into a “Legacy of Creativity” workshop. While I’ll continue doing writing workshops, I’m looking forward to doing  “Expressive Writing for Healing” and “Legacy of Creativity” workshops in 2018.

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You’ll have to attend one of my creativity workshops to see what the pencils are for~

 

So, this is what the beginning of 2018 looks like for me; a new book coming out in April, work on a manuscript that is due the end of May, and workshops and classes scheduled on my days off from the library. Despite nodding off at midnight, I’m fairly certain I won’t be sleeping through 2018.