Book Review: Use Your Words

Because writing has been such a big part of both of our lives, an entire chapter of our co-written  Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink  is devoted to the topic of combining motherhood and writing. My first check for a published piece came in January 1989, a month after my fourth baby was born. I’ve never looked back. I’ve been writing ever since, with brief breaks after each of my next four children were born. I started my blog Mary Potter Kenyon in June 2009 as a “Housewife Writer blog,” and I’ve been teaching writing classes and workshops at community colleges, libraries, and writer’s conferences since 2011.

One thing I’ve heard repeatedly during these classes is the question “How do you find the time?” or the comment “I’ll write when the kids are older.”

That’s when I pull out this picture my husband snapped of me at my typewriter in early 1994.

writing-with-baby-on-back

Yes, I wrote my way through much of those years of raising a large family. I wrote my way through caring for my husband during his cancer treatment in 2006, I wrote my way through mourning my mother in 2010, my husband in 2012, and my grandson in 2013. Because I intimately know the saving grace of the writing craft, I want to help other women (and men) discover it too. That’s the impetus behind my current writing project, a grief journal, and an expressive writing workshop I’ve put together.

Because I have a passion for encouraging young mothers to write, I was thrilled to discover this wonderful book, Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers, by Kate Hopper.

useyourwordsjacket-cover

Each chapter focuses on an element of the writing craft and includes published essays or poems from other women writers, along with writing exercises that serve as jumping-off points for the readers’ own writing. Use Your Words is a book for both beginning mother writers and more advanced writers who want to improve their writing ability as they process the gritty, mundane, humorous, and sometimes heartbreaking nature of motherhood.

When Hopper’s daughter was born prematurely, she withdrew from graduate school, where she was pursuing an MFA, to care for her daughter. Her baby was five months old when she escaped to a coffee shop and began writing what would eventually become her first book, Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood

“And for the first time since my daughter was born, the world felt a little bigger, and I felt a little less alone. Just getting those memories down on paper made me feel lighter. In the following weeks, I continued to write about Stella’s birth and hospitalization, and with each passing month, I felt healthier and more grounded; I was doing the only thing I knew how to do to make sense of what happened to me, to us- I was writing again.”

Yes. I know just what Hopper means. If you can’t take one of Hopper’s classes, offered online or at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, then the writing exercises after each chapter are sure to jump-start your writing.

You can read more about Kate Hopper HERE.

 

~Greeting Card Request Alert~

What fun! We have a request from one of our followers. Do you have a greeting card to share with her mother? It only takes a minute or two and will bring a smile to the face of this multi-talented mother.

From Erin:
“My mom, Lois, is finally(!) retiring after years of being a hairdresser, county clerk, a lunch lady, and dietitian in anywhere from hospitals-nursing homes-WIC. She’s very much looking forward to getting back to her hobbies and spending more time with her grandchildren, and not waking up at 5:30 am (unless she wants to, which is never). I want to surprise her with a big basket of retirement well wishes and have already asked friends, family, and all of her previous places of employment…but why stop there? I’ve started asking some of her favorite places to shop and eat and am now turning to the World Wide Web for help getting the world out. I’d love funny and or/thoughtful cards from all over to include in the basket, and I’m happy to write a card in return (so please include a return address if you’d like a card back) telling about when she opens all the letters. Please send cards by January 10, 2017 to:
Lois G.
c/o Erin Thompson
4214 Rownd St.
Cedar Falls, IA 50613

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Do you have a greeting card request for us?

Book Review: The Bridge Ladies

reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

“Maybe it’s the game that keeps them together more than the bonds of friendship. Maybe Bridge itself is the glue that has kept the ladies together for over fifty years. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.” The Bridge Ladies, pg. 316

bridge-ladies

For the past 55 years on Mondays around noon, Bette, Bea, Jackie, Rhoda, and Roz faithfully gather for lunch and bridge.

Roz’s daughter, Betsy Lerner, and the other women’s children, watched their mothers congregate at each other’s homes while growing up. The longevity of these friendships captivated Lerner. Enough so, that Lerner, the author of two other books and a partner of a literary agency, spent nearly three years attending their bridge sessions and observing them. She visited and interviewed all five Bridge Ladies multiple times, often in their own homes, to better understand the unique bond between the women. She also details (often humorously) her struggle to learn the game by taking lessons from a variety of teachers. What resulted is a fascinating book on friendship.

Interwoven amid the account of these enduring relationships is also the unwrapping of a mother-daughter story, that of Lerner and Roz. Lerner, who grew up in the 70s, isn’t shy about sharing her personal history of that time period with some nitty-gritty details.
But I most enjoyed the Bridge Ladies’ stories, complete with current events from each decade. We learn how they not only shared their joys but stoically weathered parenting challenges, tragedies, and the losses of their long-married spouses (with nary a divorce among them).

If you read The Bridge Ladies for the friendship theme alone, you won’t be disappointed.
If you love bridge, you’ll enjoy this book even further. Though I never learned the game, I’ve played a variety of cards since elementary school. I found the specific bridge details puzzling, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

If you want to read the angst of a mother-daughter relationship, then you have another reason to pick up this book.

I believe The Bridge Ladies and their unique friendship is best summed up by Lerner’s mother Roz when she says, “That’s what we do.” It’s a humble but apt statement on the steadfastness, love, and joy of long, enduring friendships.

 

Pen to Paper, Artist’s Handwritten Letters

No one would mistake one of my letters as a work of art. Consider the missive I began this morning to my friend Mary.

letter to Mary

We stopped caring a long time ago what our letters to each other looked like. If neat handwriting, composition, and proper grammar had been a big concern of ours, we likely would have written much fewer than the thousands of letters that passed between us in the last 30 years.

Neither one of us remembers exactly how or when we decided not to keep each other’s letters, but the sheer volume of them had a lot to do with it. Where would one store such treasures that numbered in the thousands?

I do have a stash of letters I have saved; letters from my mother, siblings, a few from my grandmother, and many from my own children. Would my brother Bill be surprised to discover that I kept the letters he wrote to me when I was 16?

Bill letter

I thought then, and still do today, that my brother’s handwriting reflected an artsy soul. A 2009 letter from my nephew Garrett seemed a precursor to the talent he has since developed as an artist.  I discovered a similarly decorated envelope among my mother’s things after her death. She, too, saved his letter.

Garrett letter

All together, my saved letters number fewer than what Mary and I might have written in our first ten years of letter-writing, but they still take up a good space in the trunk where I store them. Handwritten letters are indeed a treasure trove, as attested by the stash I’ve kept in a trunk and in books like this one.

pen to paer

Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, edited by Mary Savig, is truly a work of art in its own right.
A collection of letters by artists from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, the book reveals how letter writing can be an artistic act, just as an artist puts pen to paper to craft a line in a drawing. Brief essays explore what can be learned from the handwriting of celebrated artists such as Mary Cassatt and  Maxfield Parrish. Each letter is accompanied by an archival image of the artist or a related artwork, with a full transcription at the back. (I needed those transcriptions as the penmanship was difficult to decipher at times.)

I was surprised to see a Dubuque, Iowa art professor listed in the book. Sister Mary Paulita (Helen) Kerrigan, was a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She devoted her professional life to painting and teaching, serving for 48 years as an art professor and artist-in-residence at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa. In 1962, she left Iowa to spend the summer studying at the Art Students League of New York, sketching in the streets of Manhattan and painting in a studio. This letter was her thank-you letter to noted painter and sculptor Charles Alston.

clarke college

Her handwriting demonstrates the Palmer Method of penmanship, popular especially in Catholic schools in the United States throughout the 20th century. Many of us remember the repetitive drills that brought us our own fluency in similar cursive handwriting. My mother took some art classes at Clarke College before marrying my father. I wonder now if one of her instructors was Sister Mary Paulita.

You can see the same style of handwriting in my mother’s letters that I have saved.

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More than thirty years later, my mother’s written words can bring tears to my eyes. This letter, written in December 1985, was penned during a difficult period for my parents. My mother wasn’t sure she would make it to my mid-December college graduation. She didn’t explain until later why she and my father did not attend. But despite the difficulties they were facing, my mother attempted to look at the brighter side of things, to “be surprised how God works and feel very blessed.”

It is the words “I love you and am so proud of you always” that brings tears. I admit, at the time this letter was written, all I’d seen when I read it was “I might not be there.”  The “It’s a hard life isn’t it!” speaks volumes to me today, the hint that there was so much more to her absence than she could share in a letter.

This treasured letter makes me smile, too. “My heart is full of poetry, like Angie says.” The sister my mother mentions now writes poetry. “And maybe just how you feel, too, Mary?” Yes, oh yes. What a letter written more than 30 years ago can do for me today is make me feel as though my heart, too, is “full of poetry.”

What letter we might write today will be pulled out of a trunk 30 years from now to bring both tears and joy to the recipient?

This lovely book is just the beginning in a series of letter-writing and friendship related books we plan on reviewing in this blog during September. Many of the books reviewed this month and in the past will be included in a prize package drawing on September 18, which is National Women’s Friendship Day. Stay tuned for your chance to win this book and many others.    –Mary Potter Kenyon

A Trunk of Memories

How often do you find yourself going back in time?

I do every time I open the trunk I inherited from my mother.

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Inside are some of Mom’s scrapbooks, drawings my children and grandchildren made, a hat of my mother’s and one of David’s hats, my Dad’s old sweater vest, greeting cards, and letters…lots and lots of letters. I haven’t kept all the letters I’ve received, but I think I kept every single letter I’d ever gotten from my mother. I treasure those, occasionally re-reading them. If I’d kept every letter Mary had written me, there wouldn’t have been room in the trunk for anything else.

Have you ever considered that the letters you write might end up in a trunk somewhere, to be pulled out and read long after you are gone? That’s the incredible power of a handwritten letter.

Happy Mother’s Day, with a sneak peek at Mary & Me, on Mothers~

How much of who we are, or who we become, is because of our mother’s example? That is one of the questions the Marys delve into as they look at the example of their mother’s friendships in Chapter Two of Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink. Mary K’s mother died in November 2010, so she relied on her own memories, a box full of letters her mother had written her grandmother during her child-rearing days, and a Memory Book her mother had filled out. Mary H’s mother is still alive, so her section of the chapter is an interview with her. The book includes a Discussion Section at the back, ideal for use by women’s groups and Book Clubs. In honor of Mother’s Day, we gift potential readers with a sneak peek at the Chapter Two discussion section:

Chapter Two: Mothers
“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”
—Mitch Albom, For One More Day
1. Mary K.’s mother had not been an example in regards to adult female friendships. How important do you think it is to be a role model to our daughters in this aspect?

2. Both Mary K. and her mother struggled to balance a tight budget with raising babies. Do you think it is harder for a mother in poverty to develop friendships? Why or why not?

3. Mary K.’s mother was afraid to tell her friend about her cancer, worrying that she would tell her “I told you so” about her smoking. Are there any friends you would hesitate to share a cancer diagnosis with?

4. Mary H. enjoyed interviewing her mom about her friendships. What questions would you ask your mom about friendship? What other questions might you like to ask her?

5. Mary H. had never heard about Nancy, her mom’s friend who had tragically died in a fire. Have you ever learned anything about or from your mother that surprised you?

6. What do you remember about your mother’s friends?