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.

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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.

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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.

Mary, and Me, Update…

By Mary Jedlicka Humston

If you’ve followed this site in the past, you’ve noticed a long drought of blogless days. What in the world happened?
It boils down to two things: bicycles and books.
I’ll start with the bicycle since that relates to me. It was a lovely fall day on Oct. 8 in Lanesboro, MN. My husband Jim, another couple, and I rode the scenic trails on a brilliant Sunday morning. We’d only traveled five miles, out of the 19 we’d ride that day, when our group suddenly slowed. This was done frequently since there was a lot of traffic on the trail: bikers, walkers, joggers. When we slowed this time, I wasn’t prepared, and my front tire clipped Jim’s back tire.
You know how something’s going to happen, and you can’t stop it? I knew I was going to tip over, but I couldn’t right the bike in time. BAM! I fell hard on unforgiving asphalt.
Road rash bleeding on my left knee and left hand were the obvious injuries, but my right arm (which instinctively shot out to break the fall) was sore. I repeatedly but gently shook it, remarking that my elbow hurt, and how I must’ve jammed it. I knew how badly that hurts, since I jammed both elbows at a cheerleading camp one summer in the ‘70s.
Grateful for my helmet and that I hadn’t fallen on my face or head, I got back on the bike and rode five miles to our car where Jim bandaged my knee and hand.

Our group continued on until we stopped for pie, a biker’s reward for hard work. When I couldn’t guide the fork of pumpkin crunch pie to my mouth, I thought, “Oh, no. I must’ve jammed my wrist, too.” So, the left hand pitch-hit and carried out the pie-eating duties. The remaining five miles really stressed the fact that my wrist wasn’t doing well. Shifting gears was painful. We headed for Iowa City. Once home, an ER visit was deemed necessary. Lo and behold, x-rays discovered a broken right elbow and a suspected broken right wrist. Thus, began a five to six week period with a splint, sling, or cast.

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This brings me to Mary, our blog, and me. The right is my dominant hand. Imagine this. In all our years of friendship neither of us had ever had injuries get in the way of our letter writing. Now, I had to use my left hand. I did the best I could. These letters weren’t exactly pretty. They required extra time and patience. My hand tired easily. And, hardest of all for me, I couldn’t expound on my feelings much, or I’d have been travailing with the pen and paper for hours.
I started the car by sitting in the passenger seat, reaching the ignition with my left hand, jumping out of the car to the driver’s side and then driving with my left hand, performing amazing stretches and acrobatics with the seatbelt and shifting from drive to reverse to park. So, driving 90 miles one-way to visit Mary didn’t happen either. Exhaustion, lack of energy, and napping figured into this equation, too,

A bicycle accident changed our letter writing but didn’t stop us. It did, however, affect our blog postsRemember I mentioned the second reason for this blog drought? Books.

Mary signed a contract in November, and is hard at work on her next book, which I’ll let her tell you about in a future blog post.

So here it is; our first Mary and Me blog post since November 3, right in time for the holidays. Mary is busy writing her new book, and I’m still working hard on the physical therapy exercises and stretches and achieving almost complete range of motion.

Merry, Merry Christmas from Mary and Mary!!

Book Review: 30 Days to Peace journal

SinSELRES_6a490afb-b304-42d4-861a-f7b157ed5a81SELRES_6a490afb-b304-42d4-861a-f7b157ed5a81ce both Marys journal, and fans of our book are likely to be interested in journals,  I decided to review this one-month creative journal on the Mary and Me blog, instead of my personal blog, http://www.marypotterkenyon.com

30 Days to Peace: A One-Month Creative Journalis a lovely little book .

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I freely admit to choosing it from BloggingforBooks (in exchange for an honest review) because of the cover, and the description:

“In our loud and busy lives, it’s easy to miss the life-giving breeze of peace. That’s what this interactive journal is for. It’s about slowing down and taking time to pursue and embrace peace. It’s about welcoming the call to be a peacemaker. It’s about finding a peace rooted in faith rather than circumstances and living out that miracle every day. This is an invitation to create, write, doodle, and draw your way into the deep, lasting peace of God.”

Who doesn’t want peace in their life? What busy woman doesn’t need a reminder to slow down and find peace in faith?

That said, it feels like there is a lot of wasted space in this journal, when Bible quotes fill one page and the opposite page is filled with a design. The pages designated for writing are lovely, and unlined (in case you want to doodle, instead of write), but I’ve always resisted utilizing writing prompts, preferring instead to write on whatever I choose.

A pretty journal, but not one I’d use, or gift to the other Mary. A good gift for someone new to journaling, and small enough to be carried in a purse.

Video Book Review: Love & Salt

This is my first video book review, a review of Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Lettersby Amy Andrews & Jessica Mesman Griffith.  (excuse the early audio, not sure what happened)

Check out Jessica’s webpage, or read more about Amy and their book at Loyola Press.

I attempted this video review a couple of days ago, but was interrupted by a bat. Despite my abject horror at the sight of a bat flying around my house, and my inane response (calling out for a 17-year-old to save me), I laugh every time I see this video, so I’m including it for your enjoyment.

Stay tuned for more book review videos in the future, along with a video tour of my home office, my favorite place to read and write.

Book Review: Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away

Reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

While Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away: A Love Letter to My Family might appear an unusual book for our blog, the title intrigued me with that one word: letter. And, more specifically the words: love letter.

This book’s topic is about football and dealing with severe brain injuries due to concussion, but it is also a letter of love that Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts tight end Ben Utecht wrote for his family. (with Mark Tabb) He writes his thoughts as a love letter to his wife Karyn and four daughters (although the book is written as a memoir, not as a collections of letters). It’s all the more pertinent because he is currently living with the side effects (in his case, severe memory loss) of what he is believed to suffer with: CTE, (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) a condition resulting from repeated head blows and concussions.

Current research has proven a link between CTE and football, but the condition is impossible to diagnose while the player is still alive. In fact, an autopsy on football players’ brains currently is the only definitive way to attain a diagnosis. Recent news reports highlight a study, conducted by Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University School of Medicine, which was published in The Journal of American Medical Association in late July, 2017. The study shows that depression, memory loss, cognitive trouble, changes in behavior and/or mood, and addiction are symptoms indicative of severe brain injuries associated with concussions sustained during football.

Five major concussions are documented during Utecht’s football career. That’s not counting the multiple mild brain injuries he also suffered. Writing this book allows him to record his memories for his family should he ever reach a point where his memory loss interferes with recalling important events from his life.

One poignant segment of the book stands out for me. He is chatting with his wife Karyn and two good friends about the couple’s recent marriage. As the conversation continues, Utecht becomes angrier and angrier. How can they be so rude as to talk about this wedding while he’s sitting there? He was best friends with the groom and yet he was not even invited to the wedding. When he finally unleashes his anger and deep hurt, he immediately sobers when shown a photo, not only proving that he attended the wedding, but that he was a groomsman.

counting the days

Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away: A Love Letter to My Family (2016) is heavy with football stories and language, but it’s also a personal story of triumph and determination and how Utecht perseveres despite the challenges he faces. He has also become well-known for singing (he’s sung with Christian singer Sandi Patty and has frequently sung the National Anthem at sporting events). A beautiful song results from that love letter he wrote his wife and his daughters that I mentioned at the beginning of this review. As a nice accompaniment to the book, I’d advise you to watch the You Tube song/video inspired by that letter: You Will Always Be My Girls.


Even though I didn’t understand all the football language and some play-by-play action, I recommend this book. It especially becomes more pertinent since CTE has been in the news so much lately.

Book Review: The Story You Need to Tell

“After unearthing twenty-seven journals from dusty shelves and long-forgotten hiding places, I began reading them. I thought I would skim through them, a glass of red wine in hand, in two to three hours. Wrong. A week later I was still caught up in the thick of them. I learned how I opened up as a thinker. How I loved to read and explore books. I learned how some authors captivated me, while others tied me in knots. How writer Christine Baldwin taught me the value of keeping a journal for life. How I became a writer. How ideas intrigued me. How becoming a mother changed and fascinated me.”

I was hooked as soon as I read those words. As we’ve shared on this blog, Mary and I recently delved into our own journals and daybooks. Mary is still working her way through hers.

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I picked up Sandra Marinella’s The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal From Trauma, Illness, or Loss as research for my upcoming workshop, “Expressive Writing for Healing” offered in August at Hawkeye  community college in Cedar Falls, and in September at NICC in Dubuque.  As I’ve noted before, unlike my Mary & Me co-author, I really didn’t journal much until after my husband died, when I instinctively turned to writing to work my way through grief.

journalsIn fact, I couldn’t stop writing. I blogged, filled pages of my journal, wrote essays, letters to my friend Mary, and worked on several books, including what would become Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace

Knowing how much expressive writing had helped me, I began delving into the science behind it, reading books and articles by James W. Pennebaker, the man who was at the forefront of research on the connection between expressive writing and healing. I’ve written about Pennebaker many times, mentioning him in both my upcoming grief journal and my workshops, as well as previous blog postings.  While Marinella discusses his research in her book, she also frequently refers to her mentor, Christina Baldwin, author of Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Storya book I immediately added to my Amazon cart. That’s what happens when I fall in the rabbit-hole of research; I invariably add to my to-read list. The topic of journaling doesn’t just apply to my workshops; I have a grief journal coming out in May, am including a chapter on expressive writing in my book on creativity, and will be utilizing journals for the GriefShare grief support group I facilitate at a local church and the Lifelong Learning creativity group I’m forming this fall at the library where I’m employed.

The writing prompts at the end of each chapter in The Story You Need to Tell are some of the best I’ve ever seen. I’ll be utilizing some of them in my monthly memoir group, where members often request a writing prompt assignment.

Sandra Marinella is an award-winning teacher and writer. After facing breast cancer in 2012, she turned her focus from teaching to writing as a way of healing, and began volunteering with veterans and cancer patients. Some patient’s stories, and their life transformations, are featured as examples in her book. Sandra founded the Story You Need to Tell Project at www.storyyoutell.com.

The author doesn’t shy away from telling her own stories, which makes this book all the more powerful. Can we really talk about expressive writing without sharing some of our own? One of the most touching chapters for me was the one on healing from loss. Marinella had some pretty intense conversations with her father while he was dying; discussing death, prayer, and faith. Since they shared a love of music, the author asked him to try and communicate with her through music after he died. He loved the idea.

“One day after we arrived home, my dad mouthed his last word to me, Mom. I promised to care for her. And she hobbled over to hold his hand. Two days after he made it home, my dad took his last breaths with his love, my mom, and his family gathered around him. In those moments he radiated serenity, a transcendent beauty. For long moments we stood in hushed awe around him. 

After he passed, we sang and prayed. My brother recited Psalm 23, and then we stood reverently by his side. And in that holy moment- Standing by my father and his soul- my head was filled with the joyful clanging of church bells.’Do you hear them?’ I asked my family.”

A Different Journaling Journey

daybooks

My foray into past journals is not nearly as pleasant as that of my friend and co-author of Mary & Me. Unlike the other Mary, I did not keep a journal through college, and the “daybooks” that span 20 years of my life could hardly be called journals, with little space for contemplation, rumination, or poetry, if I’d been so inclined to write any.

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The first daybook is dated 1992. I was a 32-year-old mother of four when I began filling daybooks with notes about the weather, my children, my super coupon shopping sprees and mailbox full of refunds and trades, a distinct lack of money and time, and notes on whatever I was working on in regards to the freelance writing I’d been doing since 1987. By March of that year, I’d picked up work as a correspondent for the Bulletin-Journal newspaper in Independence.

I was also ill, as is evidenced by repeated references to upset stomachs, headaches, joint pain, brain fog, and an extreme fatigue. By early 1992, I’d been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and prescribed a medication to treat one of the worst symptoms, the one that had relegated me to the bathroom for much of each day during 1990 and 1991.

I don’t have daybooks from the previous two years, but I do have doctor’s reports, hospital admissions papers, and a chronological list of symptoms I took with me to the doctor who I believed saved me. He was the first one (of many doctors) to listen to my litany of symptoms and not dismiss me as a hypochondriac. This doctor, who I am still loyal to some 25 years later, was willing to consider that I was suffering with an immune system disorder that there was no definitive medical test for, and suggested we begin treatment by targeting the worst symptom of an illness that ruled my days.  Up until that point, I had seen a number of specialists who’d zeroed in on only one of the many symptoms, ran tests, and then declared me perfectly healthy, their eyes narrowing at my continued distress. One ER doctor pulled my husband aside and told him to quit coddling me because there was nothing wrong with me. Another insinuated I was a bored housewife with nothing to do but complain. A doctor I had trusted up until that point had the audacity to look me in the eyes and ask, with some irritation, why I had to find out what was wrong with me, telling me I should just learn to live with it, whatever it was. He then prescribed tranquilizers and an anti-depressant. The next morning, I took one of the pills, set my children in front of the television with bowls of cereal, collapsed on the couch and apparently slept through a tornado siren, because I woke up to two children screaming, a darkened sky, and the front porch screen door slamming against the side of the house. I hustled my children to the basement, and never touched those bottles again.

That’s the thing about delving into old journals, or in my case, daybooks~ we resurrect less than pleasant memories. Both Mary and I unearthed our respective “journals” when we wrote our chapters on navigating young motherhood. At the time, I’d quickly returned the daybooks to the cupboard where I store them; it was too painful to look back on those years of zero time for myself, the constant struggle to make ends meet, and of course, the reminder that, despite his failings during many of those years, I’d had a partner to share in all of it, a partner that was no longer there.

I had to do the same thing last night. I nearly threw the daybook I was reading into the trash. I was actually surprised that my January 1992 goals had not only included “getting my health back, though I’m not sure I have any control over that,” but also “formulating a refund workshop for community colleges,” and “getting work with the local newspaper.” What possessed me to think it would be a good idea to find work when I was dealing with a chronic illness? And yet, later entries demonstrated how much that little extra income helped our family, and the fact that I could work my hours around both my illness and my husband’s hours, made it the perfect job at the time. If I guarded my daily activities and took an afternoon nap, evenings were my best time of day, at least early evening. As is evidenced by the previously referenced November 10, 1992 notes, a midnight meeting, and subsequent lack of sleep triggered a resurgence of symptoms the next day. And yet, I somehow met that newspaper deadline. While I wouldn’t meet either of my other two goals for 1992, a pregnancy in 1993 brought remission of my illness and reclaimed my health, and four children and nearly 20 years later, I’d reach the goal of teaching an extreme couponing workshop at a community college. Proving that sometimes, our dreams become our reality, though not always in the time frame we’d desire.

From my research into the health benefits of expressive writing and journaling, I can’t help but think that a real journal, one in which I could have filled several pages with rumination and contemplative thoughts, would have been beneficial to me during those next twenty years when I utilized a daybook. I didn’t begin actual journaling until the morning after my husband’s death, and since 2012, I’ve filled three journals, and am close to filling the fourth.

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Ironically, those journals, filled with anguish and the laments of a woman with a broken heart, are not at all difficult for me to look though. The difference is simple, and what I recommend in my classes on expressive writing.

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Without instruction, I instinctively did what was most healing; reflecting, and looking for meaning in my experience.

And I found it.

I often flip through the pages of those journals. Despite the messy, scrawled handwriting of a woman in deep emotional distress, I can easily see spiritual and emotional healing taking place. Because I was also jotting down Bible verses, and quotes and passages from authors who’d been down the same path of grief, I can read those verses and quotes today, experiencing the same feeling I did when I copied them; a lifting of the spirit, and a sense of being a part of something so much bigger than my own pain.

I filled several pages of the first journal with an itemized list of the unusual experiences that preceded David’s death; my teen daughter, Emily, joining a youth group, her incessant need to hug her Dad, the many workshops and a newspaper column I’d recently undertaken, the newfound friends I’d made at a Christian Writer’s conference, our newly acquired taste for the Christian radio station, the many conversations I’d shared with David in the previous three months about love, faith, and even remarriage, and how often I’d caught him gazing at me in apparent adoration. Then there was his life insurance policy being reinstated just 27 days before his death, and the last book he’d touched having been a Cecil Murphey book on getting to heaven. It became obvious to me that God had gone before us, preparing us for loss of husband and father.

Those journals tell a story as I wrote my way through grieving David, and then a few months later, facing the loss of a grandson. And while it is a heart-rending one, the story contains a clear message of hope. I wouldn’t mind future generations reading these journals after my death.

The daybooks? They tell a different story; a dismal rendering of the chronology of my day-to-day life without the benefit of any reflective or contemplative time spent in which to look for meaning in those days. While they remain stored in a cupboard for now, someday I’ll have to decide if there is any benefit to keeping them at all.

A Journaling Journey

by Mary Jedlicka Humston

Mary and I both journal. In fact, I shared some of my journal entries in the “Oh, Baby!” chapter of Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink (pgs. 55-60). I possess over 40 journals, most tucked away in a crowded, little closet in one of our guest bedrooms. I’ve been writing my feelings in them since I was 19 years old. It has helped process the multitude of experiences I’ve faced in the course of several decades of life. Special quotes and letters are also glued among my entries.
For many years now I’ve wanted to re-read them. Yes, all of them. So, I decided the time was ripe this summer. While I’m only up to journal number four, and have a long way to go, it’s been an interesting journey so far.

Surprises await with the turn of a page. A tiny paragraph about “jim h.” and how much I liked him makes me smile now since he has been my husband for 40 years. Names of college friends. Experiences I’d forgotten. Old songs important enough to write down the titles.

And, then there are the poetic musings. Some are actual poems; some just random thoughts. Several years ago I “mined” the first two journals from my late teens and early 20s and discovered quite a few old poems. I submitted a few “as is” and, joy of joys, they were published. Reworking others provided even more acceptances. Can you imagine the fun of still liking that poetry enough to send it out into the world?
One of the surprises was this phrase from January, 1975.

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Those 12 words resonated enough that a few years ago I created two different poems from them.
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Pirouette was accepted for the 2013 Iowa City Poetry in Public Project. These poems are placed on posters and scattered around town and displayed on city buses. At that year’s Iowa City ArtsFest, I had the pleasure of reading it alongside others who read their Poetry in Public poems, too. Pirouette was also selected as a “Poem of the Week” for the National League of American Pen Women (NLAPW) website. Mary and I are both members of this 120-year-old organization.

And, what an unspeakable delight to have it chosen to be one of the poems representing the UNESCO Iowa City of Literature for the “Poems on the Wall” in Krakow, Poland, in conjunction with the UNESCO Krakow City of Literature. For one 24-hour period, it was projected on a downtown wall in Krakow, alternating between the Polish and English languages. That in itself was amazing, but when a dear friend returned from a trip to Poland and said she actually saw my poem on that wall? Well, all I can say is that was an experience of a lifetime.
Here’s the other poem that evolved from that original phrase in my journal.
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This sweet little haiku won First Place in a poetry contest at the NLAPW 2014 Biennial Letters Competition. What an honor!

So, it’s easy to see why I’m having so much fun this summer as I re-read my journals. Who knows what phrase or thoughts will turn into my next poems? I can’t wait to find out.

Book Review: Letter to My Daughter

Reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

Maya Angelou.

I believe everyone in our country knows of this acclaimed poet/writer. Like me, many have probably read or at least heard of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. My friend Denise and I even had the good fortune to attend our local performing arts center years ago to hear Ms. Angelou speak and recite her oh-so-true-to-the-heart poetry.
So, how is it that I hadn’t heard of Letter to My Daughter?

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When I checked the publish date, I had my answer. 2008. The year I had stage 3 thyroid cancer surgery, treatments, and recovery. The year destructive flooding occurred not only in Iowa City (where I live) but in many parts of Iowa, destroying homes, businesses, and even University of Iowa buildings (including the performing arts center). It was a year where staying current with the literary world took a back seat to living the world around me.

However, finding this gem now was well worth the wait. Short essays fill Letter to My Daughter with a variety of Angelou’s deeply personal experiences to laughter to poetic reflection to memoir.
While Angelou never had a daughter, she writes as if readers belong to her family, thus pulling us right into the meat of her life.

I love her introduction.
“I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all.”

The chapters are short, headlined by such titles as “Violence,” “Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer,” “Reclaiming Southern Roots,” and “Salute to Old Lovers.” The length allows this book to be read for a few minutes, set down to digest, and then picked up again so the reader never loses momentum for the next slice of Angelou’s life.

In Letter to My Daughter, Angelou invites us into her vibrant, wise, and honest world. I highly recommend that you accept her invitation.