Monday, November 13, 2017

Poem: I Go To Nature To Be Soothed

the sounds of nature, the sights and smells blanketed, surrounded by the reminder of the outside world, civilization. two somehow become one and blend together to coexist amidst the chaos. i am constantly reminded of the other.

i go to nature to be soothed, to recharge, to be mindful, to nourish, and to welcome my newfound calmness.

nature helps me think, re-balance. reminds me that i am just one small cell, one small part of this larger thing called life. nature soothes me. silences me.

nature makes me think. clears my mind. reminds me of what's important in this life. gets me to
put pen to paper, mind to matter and to forget
about life for awhile. i get to shut off.
recharge. reset. and,
remember who i am.

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order." - John Burroughs

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Poem: Strength and Unity: MRKH Warrior Strong

Grief has its own unique way of isolating us into a cruel, dark world we don't always know how to come back from. It is in these moments we struggle the most, yet draw the most inspiration. A good friend of mine, Meredith Brookes, recently passed away after a brief illness on Sept. 22. The last conversation we had was on Sept. 20th, 2 days before she passed. We had finally narrowed down a date about 10 days later to finally get together - the first time since she moved closer to me this summer. That conversation made the news of her unexpected passing that much harder to process. And then, I heard on Oct. 2nd, the day after we had planned to do something that she was gone...making me feel guilty I hadn't reached out to her sooner and more often.

Yet, I know she was watching over me somehow, leading me to write this poem about our friendship, and her commitment to the MRKH community.

Strength and Unity: MRKH Warrior Strong

All through the years, I'd yearned for a connection like ours.
I hoped that one day I wouldn't be alone in this battle.
I waited, patiently, for you, my friend.
And yet, here we are...

You've come and gone.
We had a bond, so strong.
Stronger through the mutual struggles, forged into
MRKH Warrior Strong.

My heart, and your heart spoke so eloquently
Our souls knew the same language.
You will always be my soul sister.
My MRKH Warrior Sister.

I didn't have to explain myself to you.
You somehow knew, without a doubt,
just what to say to make me laugh.
You knew, yet without knowing, that your sarcasm
and morbid humor would make everything better in it's own way.
You knew, in the way that only a fellow MRKH Warrior could know.

And like the phoenix, our sisters and I will rise together
from this grief, we'll build a stronger foundation.
We will rise together to discover our newfound life without you.
We will forge ahead into the unknown,
amidst the ashes left behind.
We will rise in the face of adversity
in honor of your image, and with your strength.

We will rise together as one, in unity...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Audiobook, 8 hours
Published September 13, 2016 by HarperAudio
Dates Read/Listened: Aug. 8 - Sept. 17, 2017

This was the first book I've read or listened to by Ann Patchett. The story followed Bert Cousins and Beverly Keating, who married after they fell for each other at a christening. Patchett seemed to sensitively address the issues of two individuals who fell in love despite being married to other people and both having children from those marriages. Relationships are complicated as it is, let alone adding infidelity and children to the mix.

While the story had many interesting points, I often found myself zoning out and not really paying attention to the story so when I did tune back in, I was lost and not sure exactly what "time" it was in the book. This is why it took me 6 weeks to get through it, which in turn also added to my inability to keep track of where I was because I'd forget details after so much time passed between listening sessions. Although, there did seem to be quite a few chronological "leaps" in the story and Patchett assumed the reader would follow along without clarifying exactly when events were taking place. She'd also reference certain events that happen in the past as a flashback or a memory, but then come back to present day, which left a reader (or listener) utterly confused as to what exactly happened when.

One thing I did find interesting was the concept of the book being read by the characters. It was a story about the characters being read by the characters, which then had a movie made about them and what their reactions were to both the book and the movie.

Overall, I'd rate this a 3 out of 5 - it's okay. Not for me, though I can see why others enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Infertility: You Are Enough

A little back story...

Earlier this month I went to a writers workshop in Middlebury, Vermont as part of the Burlington Writers Workshop that I am a member of. I had submitted a poem to be critiqued, about softball, and I plan to submit it to some literary journals for publication.

The feedback I got was amazing and I am ever grateful for the group of people in that group because they are raw and mindful of the importance of constructive feedback. Normally we have two people who have their pieces "workshopped" and critiqued but this particular evening it was just me so we spent the first hour or so going over my piece. I was "in the box," which means I could not say anything while the other group rest of the group was discussing my piece. I came out of the box when they were done, loving the feedback and have a lot to work with to tweak the poem.

Next, we worked on a prompt - we were to write about something you wish somebody had told you. The member who gave the prompt has been leading writing workshops or writing groups for probably 20-25 years if not more. He said that my poem had inspired him to bring this prompt to this group that night because the theme of the poem was something that was obviously to him something that I had wish I had been told when I was playing softball when I was a kid, but were things that I have learned over the years on my own.

The prompt inspired me to write about what I wish I had known about my infertility diagnosis.

I wish I knew it was a possibility. I wish during sex-ed that infertility was mentioned as something that happens. I wish that sex-ed, specifically around puberty and periods, was not taught in such a way that it is assumed that people would all develop the same way, and that all women would start their period by a certain age or have the same flow as each other every 28 days. As we all know by adulthood, that is just not the case and I wish that was pointed out during sex-ed or told to me by my parents or somebody. As it turns out, I learned all of this the hard way when I hadn't started my period before I was 15. I went through all kinds of tests to figure out why and I ended up being diagnosed with MRKH, a form of primary infertility.

And so I am here to tell you what I wish I knew when I was younger. I want to tell you that you are enough. You are everything that you are supposed to be in this life. Despite your flaws, despite your inability to do what the female body is supposedly supposed to do, you are enough. You are one hundred percent who you are supposed to be. This struggle, this infertility struggle that you are going through is making you stronger, it is making you more compassionate, and it is a test you will pass.

You are not alone. Your infertility journey, by society's standards, makes you feel like you're alone, like you're living in isolation and nobody else knows what you're experiencing. I am here to tell you that while not everybody's experiences are the same, there are people who empathize and understand what you're going through without you having to explain it to them. You are more than your infertility journey because it is only one piece of the pie, it is only one fraction of your life and who you are as a person.

You are everything you are meant to be in this life.
You are loved.
You are not alone.
You are enough.

This video, titled Not Alone, sums it all up. It's produced by American Greetings as part of their "Give Meaning" to relationships campaign. It's what convinced me to share my answer to the writing prompt with you.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

June Wrap-Up and July Forecast

Well, I think I was a bit overambitious for June considering I was traveling for half the month. I was really hoping I could get some books read in the car if I wasn't driving and listening to some audiobooks. Turns out I didn't have as much down time as I had anticipated!

Books Read in June

  1. The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
  2. Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhan Naht

Posts for Books Read in June


Posts for Books Read Before June

  1. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  2. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  3. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
  4. Bag Balm & Duct Tape: Tales of A Vermont Doctor by Beach Conger, M.D.

Reading Challenges Updates

No new challenges in June.

Audiobook Challenge 2017

This challenge goes all year along, so any audiobooks in 2017 count. Since I listened to 7 books so far this year, I am at the Weekend Warrior level.

Read Women 2017

This is a challenge on Goodreads that lasts all year long. I have completed 8 of the 13 books I plan to read this year.

2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge

12 books completed out of my 55 to read goal, which means I am 15 books behind schedule. Ahhhh!

Top Five

  1. Favorite Book: Silence: The Power of Quiet in A World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Nahn because of it's content about cultivating mindfulness and the author's ability to break down the practice into manageable steps, and providing real life examples. This is my first time reading this book and I've had it book for a couple years, and I think that was subconsciously intentional because I wasn't ready until I was. I also just happen to participate in a 4-week Cultivating Mindfulness Workshop Series this spring, which helped give me some context for mindfulness practices.
  2. Least Favorite Book: The Alchemist by Paul Coelho - only because I had forgotten I had listened to it until I checked my Goodreads for the books I read in June. It didn't make a good enough impression on me for to even remember that I had listened to it.  
  3. Most Exciting Moment: being at my cousin's wedding and witnessing her perfect day marrying her best friend. They are made for each other. I am so happy I was able to be a part of it and witness their love for each other. 
  4. Least Exciting Moment: Realizing I had been in the car for a total of 48+ hours for a road trip just in travel between destinations, not including driving around said destinations. That's a lot of car riding without reading as much as I'd hoped!
  5. Favorite Part of June: I'm listing a few here:
    1. Attending my cousins wedding
    2. Launching my Pampered Chef Consultant business
    3. Making a weekend out of seeing 2 Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds concerts
    4. Seeing friends and family I rarely get to see

July Forecast

I plan to finish reading or listening to the 4 books on my Currently Reading List:

  1. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  2. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult 
  3. Rokitansky by Alice Darwin
  4. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
At least 1 post per week - content is TBD!

Happy Reading, and most of all Happy 4th of July!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Review: Bag Balm & Duct Tape: Tales of a Vermont Doctor by Beach Conger

Review of Bag Balm and Duct Tape: Tales of a Vermont Doctor by Beach Conger, M.D.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 1989 by Fawcett
Dates Read: March 30, 2015 - November 8, 2016

As you can see by how long it took me to read this book, this was a difficult book to get through. It was chosen for book club out of about 5 selections with a Vermont theme because it seemed to be the most appealing. Since the book club is based in Vermont, we wanted to read something based in the state.

The book started out slow as he's describing the countryside and transition to living in Vermont, in a "slower" pace of life than he was accustomed to previously. It read like a journal that was adapted for publication for the serious reader and the casual reader. The serious reader notes were a bit hilarious and at times unnecessary because it could've easily been worked into the story instead of being added to it to be published.

Many of the chapters (or should I call them journal entries?) seemed to be mostly him complaining about everything that is wrong with Western medicine. About halfway through the book is when it got better when he learned how to treat patients rather than the disease. It took him moving to a small town to learn that everything he learned in med school and practiced elsewhere isn't necessarily the right way of practicing medicine. He learned that he needed to treat the person and earn their trust rather than treat the disease.

I don't remember the specific point in the book when it happened, but I do remember suddenly enjoying the story and appreciating his humor, grace, and appreciation for the hardy lifestyle of Vermonters who don't take shit from outsiders they call flatlanders.

The book was obviously dated with there being references to specific treatments and medications that are no longer recommended, which will happen with many books on the topic of medicine.

Because I felt like the book read as a journal and it was dated, I got bored easily and had trouble getting back into it at first. I did not finish it in time for book club, but did pick it back up when a friend and I started talking about it. I finished it so that we could discuss it more in depth and he felt similarly disappointed in the title being misleading.

Rated: 3 out of 5 on Goodreads. My definition of 3 out of 5 is that it was an okay read. It's not for me, but I can see why others enjoy it.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Review of The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Paperback, 320 pages
Published December 2014
Dates Read: September 5-9, 2015

Addie Baum tells her 22 year old granddaughter, Ava, her story growing up in the North End of Boston to Jewish-Russian immigrant parents who had a distrust for the changing American values. Reflecting on her 85 years when Ava asked her how she got to be the woman she is today, she starts her story in 1915 when she was just figuring out her own voice and view on life. Because of her parents distrust and their suspected affects on their three daughters, a lot of tension arose between them trying to maintain tradition and the ways of the old world and the girls trying to take advantage of the new opportunities for women during the time.

Addie's intelligence and curiosity gets the best of her as she explores the new culture her parents don't understand - movies or "moving pictures," short skirts, the celebrity culture, and eventually the right for women to vote. At a time when women are expected to marry right out of high school, she's determined to go to college. She also wants a career of her own and like any 15 year old, she wants to find true love. Addie explains that's the year she found her voice and made new friends who would have a profound affect on the course of her life.

Goodreads description explains, "from the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the naïve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor."

In true Anita Diamant fashion, The Boston Girl is a detailed historical fiction account of a young woman's struggle and resilience in an ever changing twentieth-century America. We get a glimpse through Addie's eyes of a generation of women figuring out what it means to be a woman in the new landscape of America, and the world.
I enjoyed reading this book for book club, not only because it's historical fiction, but because it reminded me of the conversation I had with my own grandmother, at about the same age, when she told me about growing up in New York City in the 1920's and early 1930's as the daughter of Italian immigrants.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Audiobook published 2007 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Paperback, 372 pages, published by Riverhead Books
Dates listened: December 10-30, 2016

I enjoyed reading The Kite Runner so much that I read A Thousand Splendid Suns not too long afterwards - it was in fact a year later, but for me that's a quick turnaround to read another book by the same author that I love so much unless it's Jodi Picoult.

If I had actually read the book rather than listening to it, I would've enjoyed it a lot more. I felt like I kept zoning out and couldn't focus so I kept missing important details. That may have had to do a lot with the actors voices being hard for me to listen to as well. As a result, I had to refer to the description on Goodreads and some other reviews to jog my memory.

The description of A Thousand Splendid suns on Goodreads is, "Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation."

Mariam grew up isolated and verbally abused by her mother. She was an illegitimate child and her mother never let her forget it, always calling her a harami. She longed for more attention from her father whom she only saw occasionally, and begged him to take her in - yearning for the attention and things that come with being a member of a real family. Then, at the age of 15 she is married off to Rasheed, a shoemaker old enough to be her grandfather and described so horrifically she might as well have been marrying an ogre. Soon Mariam is subject to Rasheed's violent and abusive behaviors - only this time it wasn't limited only to verbal abuse like her mother. Rasheed took advantage of the patriarchal culture, subconsciously or not, and physically, verbally, and sexually abused Mariam. When he wanted sex and she didn't, he'd guilt her into sex by telling her "There is no shame in this's what married people do. It's what the prophet himself and his wives did," and would then force himself onto her.

When Mariam is around 30-40 years old, Rasheed marries 14-year old Laila. Laila's childhood was similar to Mariam's, having suffered abuse in the patriarchal society of Aghanistan only to be married off at a young age to a man just as abusive if not worse than what she endured as a young child. While Mariam feels sorry for Leila because she knows what it's like be in her shoes, she is also relieved that Rasheed has someone else to beat.

The women bond over their shared experiences and try to navigate their unforeseen relationship that is a combination of mother-daughter and sisters. They do try to use their relationship to their advantage to not only take care of themselves, but also prioritize their children's lives. In an attempt to run away, Rasheed discovers their plans and beats both of them while also verbally berading them. One threatening and powerful thing he says to Leila is, "You try this again and I will find you. I swear on the prophet's name that I will find you. And, when I do, there isn't a court in this godforsaken country that will hold me accountable for what I will do. To Mariam first, then to her, and you last. I'll make you watch. You understand me? I'll make you watch." This signifies just how much he thinks of them as property and not as humans or partners.

These are just a couple examples of the abuse Mariam and Laila suffer at the hands of their husband. This is a difficult book to get through, yet it's also captivating and keeps a reader wanting more. I kept asking myself why they didn't just leave, but that's the point of the book in many ways. It's hard enough to leave an abusive relationship in the U.S. where women have rights, let alone in a country like Afghanistan where the women have very few right if any.

As Melissa Firman writes in her review, "A Thousand Splendid Suns is that rare book that is both heartbreaking and uplifting. It is an emotional journey through decades and with women who may be worlds away, but who are similar to so many of us in so many ways."

Rating: 4 out of 5. Enjoyed it, not quite loved it. Recommend, even though I did prefer The Kite Runner and felt that A Thousand Splendid Suns didn't live up to the same expectations and quality. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Hardcover, 233 pages
Published 1990 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Dates read: March 10-May 7, 2017

When I first started reading this book, I downloaded a copy on Amazon Kindle and read it on my phone, then because it was a small screen I couldn't handle it so listened to part of it as an audio book. That still didn't do it for me so I was able to get my hands on a hardcover book from the library! I prefer the physical copy for this book because it was so riveting and attention grabbing that I wanted more of it and the sooner the better (I tend to get through books faster reading the paperback/hardcover over Kindle or audio).

Through this compilation of award winning short stories, O'Brien recounts the experiences the members of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, O'Brien. First published in 1990, The Things They Carried has become an American classic and testament to the trials and tribulations the men endured during the Vietnam war.

Some stories made me sit in disbelief, while others made me cry, and most broke my heart that these young men experienced such horrors only to come home to a country full of hate and anger towards them. The first short story (chapter), aptly titled the same as the book, contained many quotes that made my heart ache, such as "They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried." Then later in the same chapter, this quote summed up the entirety of the book for me before it was even finished, "They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak."

Although there were many scenes full of intense gory violence, there are plenty more that are funny, humane, and relatable. Even decades after the war, O'Brien still carries things with him (hence the title), something that many people don't understand unless they went through it too. It's evidenced through the few times he shares that his daughter makes comments about why he lingers on the past. It's clear that he is bothered by her comments but doesn't know how to explain it to her or if he even wants to or can.

As Writer's Relief wrote in their review on Goodreads, "There are moments in the book when you wonder if what he remembers actually happened or if he’s rewriting his memories as a coping mechanism. His vivid storytelling abilities will have you suffering alongside the soldiers; so much so that, when you finish the book, you also carry a bit of the burden of war."

While reading these stories I couldn't help but wonder if he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or whether or not he is getting help. It's something that he didn't touch on, nor would I have expected him to address in this book given the purpose of the stories being more about sharing his stories than about the follow-up care. After reading the descriptions of his other books on Goodreads, it doesn't seem like he addresses PTSD directly head on - it's definitely addressed at least indirectly through showing the aftermath of coming home from a war.

Rating: 4 out of 5 - Enjoyed it, not quite loved it because while it gave some insight into his experience, I didn't like the disconnectedness of a compilation of short stories. At the same time, I think the format was necessary because his memories and the events were disconnected.

Highly Recommend.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Wrap-Up and June Forecast

I lost momentum and motivation to blog after I participated in RESOLVE's Blogger Challenge as part of National Infertility Awareness Week last month. It was a combination of nicer weather so I'm outside more, and the fact that I needed a break from blogging because I started to suffer from burnout. Infertility is such a tough subject already, and then blogging about it took a lot of emotionally energy. Although sharing my story was a relief and big weight off my shoulders, it was still emotionally draining writing all of those posts and worrying about having my story out there in the public Internet world.

That said, I wanted to share a recap of what has happened this month.

Posts for Books Read in May

  1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (audiobook, memoir) - 5 out of 5 rating
  2. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (audiobook, fiction) - 4 out of 5 rating
  3. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - review to come!

Posts for Books Read Before May

  1. Soup of the Day: 150 Delicious and Comforting Recipes from Our Favorite Restaurants by Ellen Brown (cookbook)  - no rating
  2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (historical fiction) - 5 out of 5 rating
  3. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (audiobook, fiction) - 5 out of 5 rating

Reading Challenge

I decided to commit to a new challenge for the year by joining the Audiobook Challenge 2017, which has different levels and lasts all year long. In May, I finished 2 audiobooks for a total of 5 so far in 2017, which means I completed the Newbie level. I am looking forward to listening to more audiobooks this year, in June especially with lots of road trips to get some listening in!

Top Five

  1. Favorite Book: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult - not only is she one of my favorite authors, I really noticed and enjoyed how well developed the characters were on their own and in their relationships with each other.
  2. Least Favorite Book: None this month. I didn't read nearly as much as I had hoped so I have less of a pool to draw from. 
  3. Most Exciting Moment: getting a new phone so that I can do more with it, including downloading more audio-books to listen to and get closer to meeting the Audiobook Challenge.
  4. Least Exciting Moment: When I realized that I was losing my momentum and self-encouragement for blogging. I hit a slump and didn't know how to get out of it until earlier this week and noticed what other bloggers were posting at the end of the month and got the idea for this post. I've been able to learn something from this experience and still create something!
  5. Favorite Part of May: Seeing a few old friends I haven't seen much of in the last few years. Getting together and catching up with old friends is usually a good time for me and encouraging. 

June Forecast

I'm going to be driving or a passenger for about 42 hours this month so I hope to get a lot of reading and/or listening done! Since I'll be on vacation for a bit in June, I plan to get a lot of my posts written and posted or scheduled ahead of time. 
  1. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck - currently reading
  2. Rokitasnky by Alice Darwin - currently reading
  3. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon - currently reading
  4. Home Front by Kristin Hannah - currently reading
  5. Check-in about the Audiobook Challenge 2017
  6. Top 10 Favorite Jodi Picoult Books
  7. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - published June 6
  8. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  9. The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg
  10. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  11. The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon
  12. The Diviners by Libba Bray
  13. Bag Balm & Duct Tape: Tales of a Vermont Doctor by Beach Conger, MD
  14. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Which June post should I do first?