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.”

Book Review: World Enough & Time

I picked up this book from an end table at my sister Joan’s house in Florida. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop, and she generously offered to let me take it home.

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The timing was perfect. World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down by Christian McEwen, was all about slowing down, something I’ve never been particularly good at.

This was the first real vacation I’ve ever taken. Any other traveling I’ve done has been for workshops, conferences, public speaking, or some other work-related trip. I’ve never traveled just for fun. I wasn’t sure I could ‘just be.’ A visit to the beach convinced me otherwise.

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Yes, I just sat and closed my eyes, listening to the sound of the ocean waves.

McEwan claims it is solitude, quiet, introspection, and slowing down that begets creativity, and while I understand the concept, there was very little time for any of that those many years while I was raising small children, yet I managed to create.

Even on vacation, I snuck in some writing time, staying up after everyone else one night to write an essay for the journal that will be published next spring. I also began three of the four mornings spent at my sister and brother-in-law’s house writing a letter to Mary, as a way to share my trip with her. McEwen would understand.

“I surrender to the pleasures of old-fashioned epistolary friendship: warmed by my friends’ kindness, their imagined company, even before I begin to write.”- Christian McEwen

She was, of course, talking about the pleasures of letter writing, something she often does on an airplane.

Other topics included in this book are obvious from chapter titles such as these: “The Art of Looking,” “In Praise of Walking,” “Learning to Pause,” and “Across the Bridge of Dreams.” (regarding the importance of getting enough sleep, something else I need to take to heart)

You can read more about the author on her website Christian McEwen, which coincidentally, includes a beach scene at the top of the webpage.

 

Book Review: Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa

book review by Mary Jedlicka Humston
                                              

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa, written and illustrated by Sue F. Cornelison

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While visiting our two-year-old grandson Levi, I noticed this beautifully illustrated book. Immediately intrigued by the title, I thumbed through it and was rewarded by something both Marys love: letters! Yes, part of this book involves handwritten letters.
But first, as you would expect from the title, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa does indeed follow the familiar holiday tune but substitutes “a goldfinch in an oak tree” for “a partridge in a pear tree.” It can be sung all the way through to “twelve mutton busters” instead of the traditional “twelve lords of leaping.”
You can read this book solely for the fun repetition of Iowa-themed verses to this familiar holiday song. However, an older child will enjoy the handwritten letters that accompany each day of Christmas.
Farm girl Ella writes the first full-page letter inviting her cousin Aiden to visit Iowa for the holidays. After Aiden arrives, the letters are then written by him to his parents detailing unique aspects of Iowa life. Think of hot air balloons in Indianola, a train ride on the Santa Express in Boone, or the Bridges of Madison County. Author Cornelison deftly weaves Iowa history and interesting state details into these letters.
So, on one level, this book is a holiday song. On another level, the song can be sung and the letters read to an older child. And, then to extend the interested age-groups of this book even further, an advanced reader will enjoy reading the letters as well as singing along.
Wouldn’t this be a lovely Christmas present for the Iowa children in your life? If you don’t live in Iowa, Google to see if your state has a Twelve Days of Christmas in….” Without spending too much time, I located several other states represented in this clever style, almost all with different authors.
I hope you and your family enjoy The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa. Then, after reading it, you’ll be privy to what “mutton busters” means.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!

New release in the Grief Diaries book series, Christmas Giveaway~

Update: mctag2015 was the winner of the new books. Please message Mary at marypotterkenyon@gmail.com with your name and address~ Thank you to all who entered.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell  lost her 15-year old daughter Aly in 2009. Fueled by a desire to help others through loss, she founded AlyBlue Media in 2013,launched Grief Diaries Radio in February 2014, and the National Grief & Hope convention in April 2015, which is where I met her.

When she began her Grief Diaries series of books last year, I knew I wanted to be a part of them. Filled with poignant firsthand accounts, each anthology serves as a portable support group.

My writing is featured in several of the books, including Grief Diaries: Loss of a Spouse and Grief Diaries: Hello From Heaven.    I’m a co-author of the newest book in the series, Grief Diaries: Poetry & Prose, released yesterday.

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I’m especially excited about this book because of its focus on utilizing expressive writing as a tool for healing. The pieces included were written by those who experienced a loss of some sort. Coincidently, at the same time we were completing this book, I’ve been working on a related project, a grief journal I signed a contract for in August. Lynda will be writing the foreword for the book I hope will be utilized as a healing tool. Clinical research reveals it isn’t the simple act of writing alone that promotes healing in the emotionally wounded. Instead, it is reflecting and searching for meaning in our experiences that helps us heal. James Pennebaker, Regents Centennial Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, is a pioneer in the study of using expressive writing as a route to healing. His research has shown that short-term focused writing can have a beneficial effect on anyone dealing with stress and trauma.

Reading about grief can help others in their own healing, and that is the concept behind the Grief Diaries. After my husband died, I devoured every book on the market that dealt with the loss of a spouse. It helped me to know that others had gone down the same path and not only survived, but thrived.

My friend, Dianna Vagianos Armentrout says much the same thing in her introduction:

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Many of Dianna’s poems are included in the book, along with poetry, blog entries, journal entries, and prose pieces from other authors. Here’s one of mine, written on my blog six years ago today:

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There is more to the entry, but you’ll have to pick up the book to read it. It’s uncanny  that the very first entry in my section of the book is dated six years and one day before this book’s release. Or that so much of what I am working into the journal fits into this book. In compiling quotes for the journal, I could then include my favorites in the Grief Diaries:

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Again, there are many more pages of uplifting and encouraging quotes included in Grief Diaries: Poetry & Prose.  I also utilized the resource section of my journal to help me compile a list of ten books that brought me hope in a dark time.

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Despite my lack of poetry prowess, I even managed to write some poetry myself. Any widow with children still at home will recognize the sentiment.

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To celebrate the launch of this newest title in the Grief Diaries series, I’m giving away two books from the Grief Diaries series: Grief Diaries: Poetry and Prose, and Grief Diaries: Hello From Heaven.

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To enter, just leave a comment below this post. I will randomly choose one name next Sunday, December 18.

 

 

Familius Book Sale

Our publisher is having a big super holiday sale you won’t want to miss if you have some readers on your Christmas list. Some wonderful books for less than $10~

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Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink is on sale for just $6. Now is the time to pick up a few copies for your girlfriends or your Book Club.

Book Review: In Such Good Company

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I requested a review copy of Carol Burnett’s In Such Good Company, but it sure wasn’t this.

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Yes, the subtitle Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox should have clued me in that this book would be about the eleven year run of Carol’s show, but I still wasn’t prepared to read a blow-by-blow account of so many episodes.  While I do want to watch re-runs of the show I loved as a teen in the mid-70’s, this book was somewhat disappointing. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say Carol Burnett talked into a recorder about the “good old days” on her show, and someone transcribed everything she said onto paper.

That said, I did learn some interesting facts about some of my favorite actors that appeared on the show, including Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, and Vicki Lawrence.  There were moments when Carol’s wonderful sense of humor was evident, and that made this book well worth reading; a fun look back at a show that families could watch together for a good laugh.

Book Review: From Heart to Hand

From Heart to Hand: The Lost Art of a Written Letter
by Kristin Horvath
reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

“Writing letters is what I love to do. It is a passion I have because I know receiving a personalized written letter brings joy to those who receive them and because it is a lost art I want to preserve and revitalize.”(pg. 69).

Kristin Horvath’s From Heart to Hand: The Lost Art of a Written Letter celebrates the magic of composing and receiving letters. Her passion is strong, evidenced by the fact that she shares actual letters she’s written to friends, family, and even strangers who inspired her.
As she says in her introduction, these letters are honest, sometimes a bit embarrassing, but always heartfelt. Each one is accompanied by a short commentary.

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…I have written to people who have inspired me or helped me, thanking them for the help or inspiration they provided in my life. If you enjoy love, laughter, and sentimental stories that show complete vulnerability, you will enjoy sinking your teeth into this work, and you might end up writing a letter to someone you have been meaning to catch up with.”- from the Intro

Catch Horvath’s enthusiasm. Pick up pen and paper to write that letter you’ve been meaning to send. Express your gratitude and thanks for the ways others have touched you. Now is the perfect time. Who wouldn’t love receiving such a letter like this as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches?
And, now is also the perfect time to pick up Horvath’s book and be reminded all over again how fun, wonderful, and powerful a letter can be.

You can read more about Kristin here.

Book Review: The Little Free Library Book

reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

Many of you have probably seen or heard about those “tiny, little houses” with free books inside that are popping up in neighborhoods all over the world. Perhaps, some of you even steward a Little Free Library like we Marys both do. Still, have you heard these amazing facts and statistics?
The first Little Free Library was created in 2009, just seven years ago.
There are now more than (are you ready for this?) 40,000 LFLs around the globe in all 50 states and in 70 countries. Nearly a thousand new ones spring up every month.
Through these LFLs, an estimated 35 million books are shared each year. All I can say to that is, “Wow.”

It truly is remarkable, especially considering the humble beginning of the LFL movement, which wasn’t even a movement at the time.
It started as a gift to a mother.
The Little Free Library Book: Take A Book, Return A Book by Margret Aldrich, further explains the story about how Todd Bol of Hudson, WI built a small model of a one-room school house as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading. He filled it with books and put the little house on a sturdy post in the front yard with a sign that read “Free Books.”

A simple gift to a mother from her son. That is how this grassroots phenomenon began.
Aldrich presents the early history of LFLs. She details the ins and outs: how to build one, design it, stock it with books, and steward it. She offers tips on maintenance and explains why people decide to join the ranks of LFL stewardship.

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The Little Free Library Book, perfect for coffee table display, includes bright, quality photographs of multiple libraries around the globe and the stories that accompany them. Some libraries are extraordinary. Some extravagant. Some simple. When you read Aldrich’s book and view the variety of designs, you’ll be impressed by what this movement has morphed into.

Mary and I have so many heartwarming stories about our LFL experiences that I could go on and on with this review. Suffice it to say, if you love to read, if you love libraries, and love free books, then maybe being a LFL steward is in your future.

Because one thing is certain: further growth of the LFL movement is inevitable. These little houses on posts are serving a need: to get books into people’s hands by opening up a new avenue outside traditional library walls and by offering another reading outreach to communities, hooking readers of all generations.
I love this quote from Archibald Macleish:
What is more important in a library than anything else…than everything else….is the fact that it exists.”

I’m so glad Little Free Libraries exist. I hope you will read Aldrich’s book to learn more about them.

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          Mary Jedlicka Humston’s Little Free Library, visited by Santa Claus last December

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            Mary Potter Kenyon’s Little Free Library in front of her Manchester, Iowa home

 

Book Review: They Left Us Everything

When author Plum Johnson’s mother passes away, she is given the dubious honor of going through her parent’s belongings to prepare the family home to be put on the market. She moves in temporarily, prepared to buy garbage bags and purge. What was supposed to take six weeks ended up taking sixteen months, and what Johnson learns about herself, her parents, and the complicated relationship she had with her mother makes for a spellbinding read. Yes, once again, I finished an entire book in one sitting.

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They Left Us Everything  is heartbreakingly sad one minute, raucously funny another. Johnson, who’d cared for both her ailing father and mother, delves into a somewhat eccentric childhood, as she searches for answers to her questions about her mother, in particular. She wishes for diaries.

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Instead, what Johnson is looking for she finds in packets of letters stuffed into plastic bags in one of the 23-rooms of her parent’s house. Hundreds of letters; written by her mother and to her mother. A treasure trove of letters she arranges chronologically, then slips each into archival plastic sheets that fill more than 40 binders.

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What will my children find after I’m gone? This book convinced me they’ll find it all; the letters I’ve saved, my journals, and the daybooks I filled while I was raising young children. I won’t have 23 rooms to clear out, but there will be plenty of paper I’m trusting my daughters to go through with a discerning eye.

“Am I my mother’s biographer? Do all daughters become their mother’s biographers, taking her history and passing it on to future generations? Writing letters was one of Mum’s greatest talents, and here is the record of her life. At the end of our lives, we become only memories. If we’re luck, someone is passing those down.” (page 259)

Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life

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Readers of Mary & Me will know that Mary Humston was that kind of friend for me after the death of my husband in 2012. She still is.

Henri Nouwen was that kind of friend to those who corresponded with him. An internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor, Nouwen wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life. He corresponded regularly in English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish with hundreds of friends and reached out to thousands through his books, lectures and retreats. Since his death in 1996, his literary legacy has only increased, with readers, writers, teachers and spiritual seekers being guided by his words.

When he died, he left behind a treasury of personal papers, including 16,000 letters. He not only kept every postcard, piece of paper, and greeting card that arrived in his mail, he responded to each of them.

Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life is a collection of letters that spans more than two decades, from Nouwen’s years as a professor, to his time as a Trappist monk, to missionary work in Latin American, and finally his role as a pastor of a community of people with disabilities. Friends wrote him about their grief, deteriorating marriages, faltering faith, and job struggles, and these letters in reply are extraordinary.

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To a friend considering quitting his job, Nouwen wrote: “…my first inclination is to encourage you in your work which you have started. It seems you are in a spot which is hard, but which has many, many opportunities, and there are indeed people there who need your presence, your encouragement, your insights, and most of all, your deep religious commitment.

I have a feeling that in the future you will be called to other places and to other types of work, but it seems that a few year in this dessert might in fact be a good preparation for the more involved type of ministry.”

He goes on to say;

“Be sure to be very faithful to a regular prayer life, to spend a lot of time in reading and to stay in in good contact with friends whom you trust. I am sure after a while it will become clear where God is calling you, but my first response to your letter is that right now he calls you to be just where you are.”

This is the kind of advice we could all use when we are struggling with something; a reminder to pray, to read, to take some contemplative time, and to be willing to trust God that there is a plan in all of it.

I had to set this book aside for several days after I read it, as I contemplated some of my own struggles.  I have a mentor or two in my own life that I write to, and while their replies are more often by e-mail than snail mail, their advice is similar to Nouwen’s. We get so busy in our hectic lives, we forget to make time to pray, to listen to God.

This is one of the few books of actual letters that I’ve read, and I enjoyed it immensely. It has gotten me interested in reading more of Nouwen’s work.