Book Review: Hidden Valley Road

Hidden Valley Road

Hidden Valley Road Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker is a newly published book that looks at one family, the Galvins. The parents of this family had 12 children together – ten boys and two girls – and six of the boys were mentally ill with schizophrenia. Often a scary mental health diagnosis, schizophrenia is a pervasive illness across the entire world. It is a mental illness that the field and society are trying to understand happens when a person has this diagnosis.

This is a compelling family saga, chronicling the family’s history right alongside the history of how mental illness has been treated in America and how schizophrenia has been understood historically and into our modern day. The Galvin family, given six of their children had schizophrenia, were a pioneering family in mental health research. Their DNA aided science in understanding the disease, treatment, and perhaps even the ability to stop it from ever taking hold. This family’s contribution to research in this area is undeniable.

However, I most appreciated the Galvin’s family story and how this tracks alongside illness progression. So often mental health illness cannot be understood or tracked in such a linear fashion, but the Galvin provide a backdrop for not only reading about the history of schizophrenia, but also provided a case study in how it appeared and functioned in real life in their family. Also, given six children were not schizophrenic, the cost and pain on other members of the family is an angle explored and given credence to, which is often the forgotten part of schizophrenia, i.e. how others related and/or involved are affected. Of course, with six children in one family sick with schizophrenia the impact was great on the children and parents who were not.

This book offers a difficult story of one courageous family and it is worth reading for greater understanding of the illness both from those who suffer from schizophrenia and those who suffer living with a loved one who does. It also provides a very good historical lesson on how mental illness is seen and treated, particularly a disorder like schizophrenia.

When I was working on the local crisis lines in my community, each week during my one four-hour shift, I took a phone call from a person regarding a person having his first psychotic break. What was described to me on these phone calls was harrowing, disturbing, and radical. I could not believe how pervasive the illness is nor could I understand what these people were now on a journey to face with their loved one for the rest of all of their lives. It is real and it deserves our curiosity so we can be better prepared to understand the illness and those whom suffer with it and their lived ones.

Book Review: A Weed By Any Other Name

A Weed By Any Other Name Book
Learn to Love the Weeds!

I love the name of this book: A Weed By Any Other Name; The Virtues of a Messy Lawn, or Learning to Love the Plants We Don’t Plant. The whole title seems to embrace the imperfections we find in our yards this time of year and all through the summer. We set out to plant beautiful bulbs, trees, bushes, and more to make our yards beautiful and with that come the weeds. Those plants that we don’t plant, but are there and often everywhere. Glaringly in our face, making us realize that gardens and yards, like life, are imperfect.

If you are looking for a book on weed ecology or a scientific books on where they come from, how to care for them, and more, this is NOT the book for you. Instead, this book is about the author’s journey in her own backyard as both a suburban mother and a weed ecologist as she discovers weeds and how she interacts with them.

How do you interact with the weeds that pop up on your yard each year? Do you take pleasure in pulling them each day? Would you rather spray them with chemicals to kill them? Or do you tolerate them and take a natural approach, welcoming them in to your yard alongside all of your other plantings?

My guess is how we tolerate and interact with the weeds in our yards reflects how we interact with the imperfections in our lives. For me, I don’t see many weeds in my yard, more due to the fact that there is very little grass and more mulch on the slopes, but I do buy Petunias each year and love to spend my morning time picking off the dead heads of these flowers each day. This obviously says something about me and my personality. However, the flowers really seem to appreciate it by growing in even fuller each day. Flowers love being tended to!

A gardening book that pays attention to the weeds is admirable. The author, Nancy Gift, shares her own little stories in an inviting narrative on how her life is weaved with imperfection — yes, it extends beyond her yard. Her ability to be curious about the “weeds” is an admirable quality. How we understand the weeds and grow tolerance for them is a good sign.

What do you do with the weeds you find — in your yard and in your life?

Book Review: All These Wonders

All These Wonders Book

All These Wonders is a book for the storyteller is each of us.

Are you a storyteller? Every family seems to have a storyteller and perhaps you are the one. If so, then The Moth is for you. I was introduced to it a few years ago when a friend suggested we hit up a story slam one Friday night. She told me we would have to get there very early to get in to the event. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I loved stories and performances and this organization seemed to merge the two.

The Moth is all about storytelling and encouraging each one of us to channel our inner storyteller and present a story, often on a prescribed topic, to an audience of several hundred people. It is random at most of these events who gets to go on stage and tell the story. You don’t think you’ll be called until they pull the name and yours is called.

Hello! Welcome, Storyteller!

So, I love that The Moth now has a series of books that capture some of the stories that have been told over the years under a particular theme. In All These Wonders, it is a compilation of true stories about facing the unknown. Ah, courage! We all need a good dose of it, especially these days when so much is uncertain.

These short stories are easy to read and, well, short, so you can read one a day and pretty much have the book finished pretty quickly without much of a time commitment. However, the time you do give to reading these courageous stories of facing the unknown, may help you face your unknowns as well.

I not only recommend this book to you, but also finding a Moth event and going. If you think you could never tell a story to a crowd of people, I encourage you to think again and perhaps throw your “hat in the ring.” It may be your night to meet a new challenge that feels unknown and uncertain. That’s what The Moth does best. At the very least, read these stories that were delivered on a stage alone somewhere along The Moth’s journey of live events.

Here’s to courage and facing the unknown!

Book Review: Recipe For A Perfect Wife

A happy woman washes a dish amidst marital bliss

Given my thoughts earlier this week on the viral video, Be a Lady They Said, I thought it only appropriate to focus on this new little book, Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown. Although this is a fiction book and not a viral video, here too we find a story about women fitting into a role they have been taught to aspire to in society. In this case, marriage!

Recipe for a Perfect Wife Book

Basically, the modern-day story is one we know all too well. A woman marries, follows her husband to the suburbs, and sets up a life for him and for her that is less than appealing. After all, our character left an exciting job in the big city.

The story gets interesting when this modern woman finds an old cookbook that belonged to a wife from a gone-by era in this same home who cooks her way to happiness(?) — actually to a mystery — in order to be the perfect wife of her times. Between following her recipes, our modern-day gal begins to piece together the real life of this perfect wife and begins to take courage in crafting her own life in the times she is living in — maybe with a secret or two in the mix.

It’s another tale of trying to prescribe to women who they are to be in any given marriage in any given era. There are many quotes, recipes, and puns to lead the way and give guidance in this book, but in the end it’s ultimate lesson is that women must define this for themselves. Hard to do in a society where we are told to be a lady at every turn and what exactly that means.

It feels like in the end times haven’t changed that much. I devoured this book because of the movement back and forth between the old and new ways that women try to make married life work for them. Although we think it is so far removed from yesterday, but, in fact, women have been trying to carve out their lives in secret for generations — even right up until today.

With no answers given, it is still a pleasure to read the recipes, take in the quotes, see how one woman tries to guide another and then reflect on how we define ourselves in our own marriages. The reflection is strong I believe.

Book Review: Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey Book

Are you a fan of poetry? I’ll admit it is not for everyone, but then there are some poetry books – fresh, modern, poignant, sweet – that speak right to the heart of it all. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur is one of those poetry books.

Small in size and with few words on the page, this is a little book that takes you on a journey into the author’s pain and yet comes out the other side with a sweetness to them all — a learning, even if painful, having taken hold through the experience of living.

I was intrigued by the book the first time I picked it up at a bookstore to read and it has never quite lost its grip on me. The book is broken up into four chapters, which reflect emotional periods of time for the author, including: “the hurting,” “the loving,” “the breaking,” and “the healing. See, even following the chapter titles, you can see the author is going to move towards hope in her story.

For me, as I read these poems, it feels like I have my own chapters each under these categories. Probably most of us can chronicle periods of our lives where we hurt, loved, broke, and healed. Taking the journey into this author’s view of life via her poetry is brilliant, accessible, and thought-provoking.

It is an old book by today’s standards, published in 2014, but still worth a read or at least a perusal of a poem or two.

Book Review: How to Go Plastic Free

Woman picks up plastic litter off beach
Just say no to plastic!

This past holiday season, I received a book titled, How to Go Plastic Free by Caroline Jones. The book’s tag line is Eco Tips for Busy People. In fact, the author spotlights 100 easy ideas. Well, not every one of these ideas is easy, but bringing our attention to the many ways plastic is a part of each day and the amount of plastic we are using and then providing ways to reduce our dependence on plastic is an admirable effort.

Just like the picture in this post, I am saddened when I walk on many beaches these days and see the mounds of plastic everywhere — and I do mean everywhere. It is particularly disheartening when I see plastic wrapped around the head of a fish, who has washed up on the shore choked to death by the plastic wrap. How to go plastic free is on my mind!

How to Go Plastic Free book

Anything that can help me reduce my plastic use and footprint is something I am interested in today. Some of Jones’ ideas include:

  • Using loose tea
  • Bringing your own container
  • Swap shower gel for soap
  • Buy toilet paper without plastic packaging
  • Say no to plastic bags when you purchase produce

Just these few suggestions can really make a difference in one’s use of plastic. Other ideas may take more time:

  • Make your own condiments
  • Make your own soda water
  • Go green with toys
  • Batch-cook baby food
  • Buy milk from the milk man

Some of these ideas require more time and money and these are often the barriers to ditching plastic.

The point isn’t to completely never use plastic again — although my personal opinion is the world would be a better place if we did so – but to raise our awareness and seek to reduce our reliance on plastic. All of this can help reduce our eco-anxiety too!

How to go plastic free or bust? Not quite, but this little book is a quick and handy resource to help get us started.

Book Review: Why We Can’t Sleep Women’s New Midlife Crisis

A New Book on Women’s Midlife Crisis

I am seeing this book, Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun, everywhere about now and it has caught my attention as I am the author’s target audience: a Gen X female who supposedly cannot sleep during this stage of my life. Given there are not many books written — at least yet — on Generation X, I thought it would be interesting to peruse the author’s insights on what she and the many Gen X women she interviewed for this book had to say about their experiences.

Apparently there was a lot they had to say and the book feels like a whirlwind with tons of interviews covering women my age feeling just about everything — everything negative and wrong that is. From money woes to husband troubles to never feeling good enough with their professional decisions to wondering if the whole path taken should not have been taken to begin with — this books strikes me as a place to give credence to how bad it all is — and that it really began when we were born and how we were raised.

I think a book that is written by a woman who is my age and focuses on women of my age is to be commended. Most of the time, the midlife crisis genre belongs to men. How refreshing to have a modern look at it today from a woman’s perspective. About time.

However, I cannot agree with how this author sits in the muck of it all. I believe that’s most comfortable for most people and for society in general, but it tends to bore me these days. How bad life can be at this stage or at any stage at all. And then to compile a book with all of the bad feelings and stories and then offer up some quick advice on how to combat all of this bad. It really feels pop psych gone bad.

To me, this is one of the easy ways we let ourselves live and then feel heard — when books like this come along and support our bad feelings. We love to dwell in the bad. If you are reading this and saying to yourself, but it really is bad, I believe you and I also want to challenge you on that thought.

If you think about a given day, how many people do you know who think, express, dwell in good thoughts, ideas, pleasure, complements, and other things that uplift people? I bet you probably can’t even find a single person today. Sad to me. If it is all about the complaining, the worrying, the nagging — and most of American society dwells in this to be honest – it is actually almost like eating a chocolate chip cookie to read about others misery alongside your own.

Harder still? Finding meaning and making meaning of your life no matter what stage we are in in life. Yes, your hormones may be changing, as is your husband and your kids and your parents, and so are you. Being resilient, curious, and welcoming to all that is changing is a way to meet the midlife crisis with an open heart that leads to authentic growth.

Where is that book? The one that looks at my generation of women and celebrates the change — of it all.

Book Review: Lark Cooking Wild in the Northwest

Well, it is the month of love and people always say that love can often be shown through the food we serve one another. That is why I have chosen to focus on a cookbook for this week’s book review — and not just any ol’ cookbook, but one that speaks to me in more ways than one.

Lark — first off, I love the word. It ranks right up there for me with the word serendipity. When I looked up the word, its exact meaning is, according to Merriam-Webster,”a source of or a quest for amusement and adventure.” Well, now I see why I’m drawn to the word. Amusement, Adventure — and then pair that with food and I am off to the races with my imagination.

So, the restaurant, Lark, in Seattle holds a perfect name for me. Many years ago, I was so intrigued, I dined at this restaurant and was completely enchanted by its small space and plates that seemed to take my tastebuds on an adventure that evening.

Eventually, Lark moved into a new space and it is it still a grand restaurant in Seattle that I highly recommend to you. However, if you cannot make it out to this restaurant, this cookbook, Lark Cooking Wild in the Northwest is a wonderful book that captures not only their recipes, but how to make the most of our provisions in the Pacific NW.

There are three seasons of eating in the Pacific NW, according to Lark, and they include: Mist, from November to March, Evergreen, from April to July, and Bounty, from August to October. As you can guess, the names go with the themes of the season each year. The restaurant cooks within the seasons and the recipes encourage cooks to do the same.

The book itself takes me on an adventure through many favorite recipes that I have tried at this restaurant over the years — like the sun choke chips! Simple, crispy — yum!

There are so many cookbooks out there on the bookshelves, perhaps on your kitchen shelves, and this addition will make itself worthy by the recipes that will inspire you to cook with the seasons of the Pacific Northwest. Even the cover has me dreaming of the mysteries of this area.

A gorgeous book for a wild, adventurous, amusing palette — and there is always the restaurant as a back up too!

Book Review: The Book of Mistakes

Does this look like a Mistake?

Do you feel like you are a work in progress? I know I do! And I think that is why I am drawn to this clever children’s book, The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken. As you can imagine, there are not many words on any of the pages, just often the word “mistake.”

As the artist draws a splotch here and there, an eye too big, and a foot too large, with too much space between foot and sidewalk and more, the creative process unfolds in the drawing pointing out the mistakes. Yes, many mistakes.

And then something marvelous happens with all of those mistakes. Beauty, form, creativity, whimsy, a story full of hopes and imagination. What began as something wrong became right.

How many adults – let alone children – have little patience for any mistakes that we make? If it is not perfect from the start, why bother? I have come to realize that perfection is really rather boring and all that work to be boring is pretty arduous. But, ah! Mistakes. Mistakes take us to unknown places, create journeys we never intended to take, help us see something we never would have seen without the mistake.

Mistakes personify and embody life – the creative one and beyond. We often think we can read large non-fiction books about mistakes and figure out how to make peace with our mistakes and not make them in future.

Alternatively, you can turn to a book like this that names the mistakes during the creative process and courageously follows where they lead. Ah! A fresh take on making mistakes!

Book Review: All Are Welcome

Yes You Are Welcome!

I was at a favorite independent bookstore the other day and look what I found? A wonderful children’s book titled, All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold with illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman.

With very few words on the page, this picture book packs a punch with its chorus line on each page, All Are Welcome, and the bright pictures of the children moving through their day from home to school and home again.

It’s a message that I resonate with today — and I particularly liked this passage:

We’re part of a community. Our strength is our diversity. A shelter from adversity.

Wow! Doesn’t that just say it all for all of us?

In a time when people are being divided by their differences, I am reassured to find this beautiful picture book with its simple message teaching the next generation where strength lies in community and reminding the adults to not fear, but to move in and embrace the other.

All Are Welcome Indeed in my practice and in my life.