books, grief


There are times when a book lands in your lap and as you being reading it, a sentence or a theme reminds you of a memory. The Lost Letter by Jillian Canton brought me to only page five when her recollection of her father’s love for collecting stamps promptly reminded me of a long rectangular box about three feet long and about eighteen inches tall residing in my third floor closet. A box I had never opened since it was delivered to me in December of 1995. Not even two months since my brother had died from a year long battle with adeno carcinoma of the lung at the too young age of 25.

I remember being in my mother’s basement after he died and we were going through some of my brother’s things that had found their way as storage there.

“Do you want Michael’s comic book collection? She asked.

There seems to be two distinct ways a parent may handle the intense pain of losing a child. Hanging on for dear life to everything and anything is one way, or purge all physical items that are distinct reminders of pain. My mother had chosen the latter and I was the lucky recipient of whatever I desired of my deceased brother’s. There was a part of me that wanted to hang on to every item possible so that he would not be physically forgotten so I accepted the box and placed it in my basement of the house I shared with my former husband. Four months later I found myself pregnant and the box became a temporary forgotten shadow of my brother as we made our way as new and busy parents.

Fifteen years later, the unopened and mega taped box followed me in the wake of my divorce to condo number 1, condo number 2, then a storage unit and finally making its way to its permanent home where I presently live. Placed in the closet of my son’s space on the third floor it sat with the idea that he would be the proud owner of the contents when he was ready to take a look. Likely long after I am gone.

Lately there have been some discussions with friends about comic books, can’t recall how the subject has come up, but I remembered the box thinking, “I should take a look in there to see if there are any Wonder Woman comics.” A planted seed perhaps waiting for some water so the shoot could peek from the soil.

When I finished reading Lilac Girls, I was so hungry for more that I read every comment on the back of the book and jotted down the author names and the books they had written. The Lost Letter was one of these books. I have never done this before- read a book and then head towards the back cover for more books but for some reason, I went with the notion that Like attracts Like and made the assumption that the authors who kindly gave their reviews for quotes would be similar in taste.

This is how The Lost Letter came to be my next book on my reading list and this is the book that made me walk upstairs this morning and bring the box down to finally take a look inside. It never occurred to me that there would be anything inside this box besides comic books. I am not sure if I had ever opened the box but I always thought that it was filled with comic books from a collection my brother had started in the late eighties. Every comic book in its own plastic sleeve protector along with the paperwork of the place he had ordered them from. Back before the internet when you ordered things by mail through mail on an actual order form and waited for the delivery to arrive in “4-6 weeks.” The order forms were along with the comics to remind me of this time in our lives when waiting was part of the daily act of living.

I perused the collection and not knowing anything about comic books, lost interest rather quickly when I realized there would be no Wonder Woman of yesteryear waiting for me as a nice surprise. Instead of Wonder Woman, I  came across a cardboard box filled with stuff, cards, letters, old advertisements and photos along with their negatives. (remember those?)

I walked it over to my couch and my waiting coffee cup and proceeded to go through the box where I found a chronological time travel of my brother’s world from before cancer to during. I found Happy Birthday, Hope it’s a great one! cards, Christmas? instead of Hanukkah cards, reminding me of the yoyo world we both lived in with my parent’s religious choices at any given time. Then there were the hope you get well soon cards, sorry I haven’t called but I don’t know what to say cards and finally the cards that tried all too hard not to mention the elephant in the room that an almost 25 year old strapping healthy young man would not be getting well soon after all. all handwritten, all encouraging and kind, filled with love. Names I never knew of friends at work, to family members who have since died, in their easily recognized handwriting. No emails, no text messages, only beautiful writing because that was the only option for regular communication back then.

I was in awe of the love pouring out, the well wishes and most poignantly, the hope. I got to read letters from my grandmother who always spoke and wrote detailed messages and my other grandmother who simply said, hope you get well soon. Letters from my Aunt Peggy who died a few years back and great aunts and uncles long since gone. There were cards from friends traveling and moving inviting my brother for a visit and letters from our cousins giving him their life updates in handwritten prose on personalized stationary.

Needless to say, not a dry eye from the moment I realized what I had come across and was struck by the power of grief creeping up on me again just because of a random book I began reading. There are times when something doesn’t feel quite right in my spirit, I feel a little off balance emotionally. When I do the infamous checklist- what did I eat, drink, have I been exercising, meditating? Is it a full moon, is mercury retrograde? When none of those fit the bill and I am still a bit off, usually it is some emotion that needs to be released.  I unknowingly needed a good cry and this was the entry ticket I needed to give some bottled up tears a little extra nudge to get them flowing up and out.

There will never be a time almost twenty four years later when I don’t miss my brother, the further away he gets from me, the more I am realizing this very simple and stark fact. He is no longer- and the trip down memory lane this morning jet set me right into the island of loss that has been a part of my adult life with me in the passenger seat. The further the years take me from my grieving this loss, the more it seems like it plays hide and seek with me, hiding in the darkest furthest away corners that I didn’t know to look.

Waiting to be found, Grief seems to sit lying in wait for discovery until it just can’t hide out any longer. Grief may soften or go back to its hide out, but at the strangest times, it needs its own recognition or else it leaks in a slow drip hard to decipher until the faucet gets turned on full throttle. A good cry on a random Sunday morning is the ironic gift that keeps giving. Despite its sadness, there is a release. Opening a box of comic books looking for Wonder Woman because of a book called The Lost Letter seems like no random coincidence. Once again my brother’s loss has brought me to my knees and he never stops teaching me to pay attention all these years later.

book reviews, books


library or bookstore, this book is worth your time.

The gift of the vigorous writing I have been doing has been the books that have landed on my desk about writing. I have learned when I am on the right path, the exact things show up in my life at the perfect time. This has been a consistent force in my life history and between Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg, Stephen King and a few more I can’t think of as I sit at my grandfather’s home in beautiful sunny Florida, these advice on writing books have been helpful.

Some books say, “Write every day without fail.” Others say, “Take a break, walk away, get inspired.” But all of them without fail say, “Read. A lot.” So reading I have been doing.

“How do you have the time?” My friend, Marcia asked me one night at dinner. I thought about this for a moment. When something speaks to your core with a such a force that I feel almost nauseous by not writing, I make the time.  I make the time because writing has become such an integral part of my priority list that everything I am doing right now must support this.

Once I made a commitment to write and write and write, reading became the necessary counter balance. What a gift that reading more books helps writing more stories because now that I am reading a book every three of four days, I am learning much more about the craft of writing. I appreciated great writing before, but now it has taken a hold of me with a fervor.

My favorite genre has always been historical fiction especially when a book takes the place during World War II. Perhaps it is because I am Jewish and because my grandfather was drafted, or because my parents were born a year before the war ended. Maybe it is because I am getting older and the world seems more fragile then ever. All of the historical foreshadowing for the world we seem to be living in pulses around me because I have watched too many episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, but when I read of a book that takes place during the early 1940s, I am drawn.

As I gathered my beach books for my trip, I came across a book called Lilac Girls that had found its way to my house around Hanukkah. I was between library books waiting to hear that the ones I had placed on hold were available for pickup so I began reading this debut novel by Martha Hall Kelly with a vengeance. As I made my way through yet another story about a female Holocaust experience, I couldn’t put this book down.

The Holocaust trauma is usually about Jewish people, six million children, women, men just because of their beliefs, but Lilac Girls reminded me of the many others who were put in concentration camps. People we seldom hear about and in this case a group of Polish women put in a concentration camp for women only called Ravensbrück in Germany, many because of their resistance work.

I had the pleasure of taking a course at Rhode Island College called Women’s Resistance in the Holocaust. It was here that I really began understanding the importance of resistance and how many layers there are to this response to a political movement gone terribly wrong. Lilac Girls reminded me of the varying ways one can resist and fight and the way that women do this or not is shown beautifully in this book. These women were held as prisoners not even knowing what the charge was. I never knew that there was only one concentration camp just for women. This fact alone makes the book a lesson in history. Even though it is a fictional account, the author does a brilliant job in giving us the factual details that a great historical fiction novel can do.

We so often hear of the Jewish resistance movement during the war, occasionally we hear of non-Jews who helped hide and save Jews, but besides the famed Schindler, so many heroes and heroines go unnoticed the further away from the time we move. This book introduces us to a real-life character who was doing her own resistance work in New York, a socialite with many connections named Caroline Ferriday and how she came to know about the prisoners at Ravensbrück.

Along with Caroline, we learn of the Polish women prisoners who suffered brutal surgical experiments on their legs, causing the women who actually survived this torture to hop around the camp because of the disfigurement and pain the surgeries caused. This gave them the nickname Rabbits and Martha Hall Kelly brought them back to life in her first novel. The women’s stories are only a part of this mind opening first novel. I highly suggest this book if you are looking for a poignant read that also gives you a time travel back to a time in history we must force ourselves to keep in our consciousness.

The glory of writing is that more reading helps more writing. A break from writing also helps writing and both are part of this week of solo vacation for me. I only hope that as I march forth with my own research for my first historical fiction novel, I do the same justice that Martha Hall Kelly did for hers. She is writing her next novel called a prequel to this one and I can hardly wait.




Everywhere I look at my grandparent’s house, there are books. Not as many as there used to be as my grandfather realized long before his stroke, long before my grandmother died that they should start to move some of them somewhere. I was an all too welcome recipient as I love not only books, but anything and everything that comes from their house. I realized this last trip their familiar presence has been a staple in my world since I was born and how much I take that presence for granted. Books have been a part of the fabric of my upbringing, their importance the foundation of my life just by their lives on the shelves everywhere I look. On this trip I notice the empty spots knowing that my grandfather kindly sent many of them to me over ten years ago when I gave him my book grocery list. He was all too happy to find a new home for his collection and I was too happy to invite them as a next generation who appreciates the stories they tell.

Most of the books from my grandparents’ home have Jewish themes, Israeli themes, WWII history and one could likely tell from the titles that my grandparents were really invested in their faith. When I say faith, I do not refer to the religious aspect of it, but the cultural element. My grandparents were not religious Jews, but definitely cultural ones and their belief about what is right and wrong and how to live a life that demonstrated this was most definitively led by their Judaism. Many religions can say this, thou shall not…. The familiar Ten Commandments has been a good set of human values for the most part and we were raised mostly with this as our examples.

I have many friends who did not grow up with shelves and shelves of books and in my past life when I was married as I made my way to their homes, this was a unique difference in my observations. Books on the shelves along with art on the walls seemed to go hand in hand. Along with the books, my grandparents have art everywhere and this too has made its way to my home over the years. Again a lot of Jewish themed art along with art from their many trips to places people simply weren’t going to in the sixties and the seventies, China in the late seventies when they finally opened their borders to tourism, Israel starting in 1966, New Zealand, Ghana and Timbuktu and many other out of comfort zone places that shaped their world views. In turn they passed them on to their grandchildren by their examples along with the stories and endless slide shows we had the fortune to witness. At the time though, watching a slide show of a safari made us kids groan, but it instilled a love of travel and adventure in all of us grandchildren that we wholeheartedly appreciate.

As I look around at the dwindling and many out of date collection of books, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, Jewish Civilization to name a few I wonder what on earth we are going to do with all of these books when the time comes for my 101 year old grandfather to move on to his next adventure, hopefully with my grandmother and father and brother. Each time I have visited him for the past ten years, I have looked at all of the “stuff” and thought to myself what the hell are we going to do with all of this? For him as I have asked him repeatedly, he replies with the simple answer, it’s not my problem, it will be yours and Bobby’s. Haha, touche, I think. While it seems like his typical pragmatic approach to all things end of life would apply here, all of this goes out the window because there seems to be in that six foot body of his a small shred of sentimentality after all.

“You are an emotional girl,” he has been fond of saying to me over the years like it was some wart to try to remove from my nose or something. Ironically it turns out that he too has a touch of emotion as well. Even though the pragmatic approach would be to start doling out the art and the trinkets, this I have decided would be admitting that death was at the door waiting. It also takes out of the house my grandmother’s essence, their travels and adventures, and for this, I concede, it makes complete sense to hold on as long as he chooses. He deserves this. It is his stuff and his life. I am sure that when the time comes for him to move on, we will be all too happy to be reminded of his presence in the stories each of these items we will lay claim to tell. The books are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many beautiful items that will find their way into our homes for the next generations. For me it is not the value of the item, the great news for our family is that none of us need any of it, it is the sentimental that I will cherish, the kitchen gadgets of my grandmother, her incredible Corning Ware collection, useful, well cared for and endless reminders of briskets and salads and Jewish Holidays. I am in no rush for any of it because that just means that this world as I have known and loved has come to an end. I have nothing to cry about after all I have had my grandfather way beyond my wildest dreams. The books are just the metaphor for the words and actions he has instilled in me and all of his grandchildren and as long as they are there, this means that he is. This is just fine with me.




It has been almost four full months since I embarked on my no shopping decree that was going to be a month at a time and here I am. I have saved money for a rainy day for the first time in my fifty three year young life, followed a reasonable budget and had money left over to spare on a weekly basis. I have always been great at saving for retirement since I was in my late twenties. My grandfather barked his wisdom at me telling me to buy mutual funds and invest in the company 401k that was fortunately available at my young age and ultimately led me to the discipline of saving for my future. Fifty three came fast and I was really happy that I listened to him especially when it came to saving for my later and for my son’s education — I had enough saved to completely pay for his first two years of college. My nemesis was the rainy day fund. I never learned to save for the now, the present, the what if, living by the seat of my pants for most of my life and for the most part it has worked out for me, but not without a lot of stress and worry.

My grandmother, Kitsie, the one of Hot Fudge Sauce fame, my mother’s mother, was a perpetual money worrier, my mother and father were spendthrifts always having the latest car, kitchen gadget and not really teaching us much about the value of money and the self worth it inscribes when handled it with care and attention. Like food, money for me has been one of those go to soothers when the going gets tough. Eating a hot fudge sundae or going on a shopping spree at Williams Sonoma or Lululemon detoured me from the hole of emotion making it easy to avoid the bump in the road. In the throws of these outings though, the thrill of the spend or the indulging in the fudge covered up the hole like a sewer cap on a street, unbeknownst to this traveler as I didn’t notice the gaping crater as I blasted my way to the shopping center.

Amazon Prime changed some of this routine. Now at a moment’s notice I could Search! Find! and Buy Now with One Click! in less than two minutes all in the comfort of my flannel pjs warmly coated on the couch in my other more sensible grandmother Isabelle’s (aka total saver) lighthouse sweater. In two days voila like magic, a store could be brought to me. The thrill of seeing the UPS or FedEx truck pull up felt like a perpetual Happy Birthday to Me. I would eagerly open up the smooth and well packaged boxes emblazoned with the Amazon Prime label reminding anyone around me that I too paid the one hundred extra dollars per year for the joy of shopping from the glory of my couch in my pjs. The convenience of the Amazon store credit card tied this neatly into a glorious consumerism bow so I could rack up points to gather for more more more purchases.

When I decided to stop shopping for most things, and going instead the old school style of weekly outings to the bank to write myself a check and divvy the money up into neat little envelopes, it was a personal challenge to years of over spending, freely buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and wondering why I never had any rainy day fund money at the end of the month. I always admired my female friends who were on a budget, I never really could wrap my head or my wallet around the discipline. I came from the school of thought that everything happens in the divine right order, that all is well in my world, (thank you Louise Hay for giving me permission to blow cares to the wind). I believed that if you said things like I choose not to afford this rather than I can’t afford it somehow this would create the magical abundance that The Secret and all of the Tony Robbins twelve cd sets guilefully in his 3am informercials promised that I somehow found myself watching one early morning in Killington Vt. on an awkward ski trip in my former life when my son was about two.

Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression that I totally gave up shopping at Amazon Prime, not at all. I do have to buy many items for my business (wink wink) and the fine line between giving up shopping for my personal life in contrast to my business is a perpetual tightrope walk. But I have for the most part prevailed and book purchases were the first to go. When I did my last major purge, I couldn’t believe how many books I had amassed; clearly I love to buy books as much as I love to read them. As I contemplated my son standing in front of all of these books trying to decide what to get rid of, what to donate, what to keep, on the day of my funeral (cancer has this affect on you like this- the constant visualizations of your child having to make decisions about all of your crap), I was struck by how overwhelming it could be. I made a prompt decision to donate, sell or give to my friends most of my books. I don’t need to have them on display in my living room to demonstrate my literature worthiness, that is all my own ego and of all of the parts of my body I am happiest to free myself from, ego release is the bonus breast cancer gift that keeps on giving.

I decided to give the library a try. My Hot Fudge Sauce grandmother Kitsie was an avid library attendee. She was a teacher and read constantly always going back and forth from the from the Newton library to drop off and pick up another book. My grandfather too was a regular visitor to the library spending afternoons reading in the quiet space. (probably to get away from my grandmother’s incessant vacuuming and was a better alternative to the former hangout for this sober Irish Scottish drinker).

In my beautiful town of Bristol, RI we have a lovely library and it is within walking distance of my house. I am ashamed to say that I had only taken out books a handful of times usually returning them late hence making the library more of a magnifier of my weak spots of irresponsibility then the joy it should have been. But that was then. With this new direction of not shopping, going to the library and learning how to use it has become a source of great enjoyment for me. I learned that I could go on to the Ocean State Libraries network and basically type in any book and just like Amazon it would become available to me with a simple email to let me know when it was ready for pickup. I look forward to reading the Sunday NYT Book Review and it doesn’t cease to surprise me when I type in the book on the site and it is there, just like Amazon and it’s free! I am laughing at myself wholeheartedly. I have had to make the small adjustment of typing in the author’s name last name first. This has taken me some getting used to and you can see my annoyance when I repeatedly typed in Hannah Arendt and the library was telling me there was no such author. Ahhh, of course, the correct non Amazon Prime way, Arendt, Hannah. HOW EMBARRASSING. Was anyone looking? No! because there is no algorithm tracking my every search! Another bonus!!!

I have found myself actively finishing every book I start because there is a time line of when the book needs to be returned forcing me to turn off the television or put down the phone to check how many likes one of my writings recently received (yes I reveal my truth of shame here, embarrassing, but true and I really have to consciously force myself to not take part in the silliness of the eight grade world we now found ourselves in). I actually laid on the couch yesterday and read an entire book because I knew I had to return it this week.

There is a lovely old fashioned ritual to using the library that makes me connect to my grandmother. The crinkling sounds of the plastic protector covers on the books, the date due stamped with all of the previous dates in the inside cover, nameless but quantifiable. Taking care of the book, being more conscious of preserving its pages because it is borrowed not owned, walking down to the library and engaging with the volunteers by talking about books. I love watching the new mamas traipsing in with their little babes in tow hoping to instill a love of books before public elementary school gets a hold of their little minds and forces them to record the number of minutes they read the night before sucking the joy of the book right out of them. Yes really. There is the activity wall listing all of the endless events going on and looking around at the patrons who are either working on the free computers, reading the free newpapers or just sitting like it is a café without the wafts of coffee aroma luring you to stay and think you need to buy rather than borrow.

And The Quiet.

The quiet of the space, the people, the technology, the voices, the sounds. It has been a welcome bonus in my new land of not shopping and what I have noticed is how much I have learned to love the little joys that have come my way unexpected. And for the first time in my young life have saved money for a rainy day in less than four months. I actually look at my checkbook each day and I know exactly how much is in there because I didn’t spend any money the day or week before. Those twenty dollar debit charges “here and there” add up to enormous mountains of spending and what I have noticed is by not using my debit card ever and using cash instead always, I don’t have to play the incessant catch up in my check book that is inevitable with these constant miscellaneous charges of a lunch here, a pair of sneakers there, a scarf or a hat, the list never ends.

What I have learned from my depression era grandparents is that wealth is not spending, wealth is a maturity in knowing you value yourself enough to value the money that you earn. That by spending it willy nilly on every whim, I am in many ways not honoring the importance of its energy. Money has an energy of great purpose, but it can also lead to terrible outcomes. As women especially, we are often taught from an early age that when in doubt, go shopping, eat a bag of chips or a tray of cookies. But by all means, spend. By not spending for almost four months, I have had to face the inordinate amount of time that miraculously became available to me. I couldn’t believe how much time I had given to shopping, or thinking about buying something. The liberation came from releasing it and the library became my detour. Thank you Benjamin Franklin who had the foresight and brilliance to think that a library was a possibility.

“And now I set on foot my first project of a public nature, that for a subscription library … this was the mother of all the North American subscription libraries, now so numerous. It is become a great thing itself, and continually increasing. These libraries have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in defense of their privileges.” — The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin




Headed into Barnes and Noble yesterday afternoon to stock up on some books for an employee’s baby shower today and wow, how books have changed. First off I walked by about a thousand toys and games and puzzles, lots of Star Wars action figures and Lego sets mostly with a defined gender lean as usual. Lego doesn’t seem to get the shift necessary these days and that the “girl” lego sets don’t need to be a superhero or a Barbie camper copy. I thought they were past that by now, but I digress because I wasn’t at a toy store, but a book store and was quickly becoming disappointed that I didn’t go to my favorite local independent store instead.

As I made my way past the toy aisle there were pink and purple and almost sparkly books screaming positivity at me. I AM AWESOME, FEMINIST BABY, (yes I swear) there were books everywhere with the YOU ARE PERFECT JUST AS YOU ARE message and I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy or weep at the contrived and now popular marketing message.

I didn’t see any “boy” books that said any of these messages. Those books were defined by the trucks and cars and things that go. Boys apparently don’t need to be reminded at their place in the sun at the top of the food chain, but apparently female authors have decided it is now time to explore (or exploit) the I AM FABULOUS enough message. The bright side to this long strange trip down the little superchick aisle was the amount of female representation books about real life women like Jane Goodall and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Rosa Parks and many more excellent, though predictable but nonetheless, community activists, science and political leaders. This in my opinion is a positive change in young readers literature. We didn’t have much of this when I was growing up so every positive reminder that there are strong female leaders besides Amelia Earhart and Florence Nightingale out there for our young minds to look up to is good news.

As I made my way through the stuffed animals and things that kind of resembled books, but I wasn’t sure, I looked for the books I loved reading to my son. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig of Shrek fame before Shrek fame, Animals Should Definitely not Wear Clothing, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Webb, by the one and only E. B. White, Blueberries for Sal and Lentil by Robert McCloskey, Little Women, any Sandra Boynton book, especially Dinasour’s Binket and Barnyard Dance and Are You My Mother? Hundreds of books I read to Michael over the years, but I barely saw them. The books I saw had a sad commercial quality to them like almost trying to match the latest movie.

The shower gift note included with the invitation asked we each bring a book to start the baby’s library. I get this because I have attended many many showers and seldom are books the main attraction. My go to gifts ever since I received them at my own shower are a nice big stack of books to start the library. This purchase today was more careful knowing that every attendee would be bringing a book. I had to stay away from I LOVE YOU FOREVER, PAT THE BUNNY, GREEN EGGS and almost any Dr. Seuss book for that matter, MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE and all that followed, and so many more of the classics. I had to go deep and make decisions that would be under the radar. When did children’s books become political? This particular employee tends to lean to the right or at least this is what I am told so the Ruth B. Ginsberg book was auto out. I actually had to read through some of the books so as not to offend. I had to cave though and buy the silliest one aforementioned, FEMINIST BABY, just for the pure absurdity of it. I would have liked to see a book called CHICKS AND CARS, maybe showing a little girl asking about how to change a tire. Or maybe a character headed to day care as her mom heads off to NASA to help develop a rocket. Maybe a book showing Dad getting home first and catching up on the laundry and getting dinner ready because Mom is traveling for business or maybe there is no Mom, maybe there is another Dad or maybe Mom is at her own house because the parents are divorced. How about a book about a child making friends at an afterschool program because both parents work two jobs to make ends meet? How about a book about learning about a great female economist and about the importance of saving your own damn money. How about a book called, “NO YOU DON’T HAVE TO ASK YOUR HUSBAND HOW MUCH TO PUT ASIDE FROM YOUR CHECK FOR THE COMPANY SPONSORED IRA?” Another book that would be great would be a book on a young girl going for her first job and dealing with the salary question by commanding fair pay. I would love to see a book about a mom bringing her daughter to the bank and showing her that money needs to get deposited into it in order for the debit card to actually withdraw it. Perhaps if we started getting into our young little chicks minds from the first book we read to them, we would have a serious group of developed and smart demanding women in the workforce. I am even open to this representation by other characters besides humans to make the point. Wise owls, strong lioness, graceful but commanding swans and lovely bad ass eagles. Let’s celebrate the praying mantiss in some of our books, we all know about her personality trait.

I don’t know, how about some reality instead of shoving down our brand new and ripe and ready new baby minds the white picket fence bullshit of YOU ARE FABULOUS AND GREAT AND PERFECT, because the fact is that life on its way to your little being is messy. Shit happens when you don’t feel so great and perfect, but this, my little one, is WHAT LIFE IS. No need for labeling yourself a failure because you feel like one occasionally, the failure is the juice that propels you into the light. Failure is normal. How about those realistic messages if we are going to start creating positivity books? How about the new moms putting their fricking phones down and actually reading a real book to their babies with no television and no ipad for five minutes. How about that?

yes i bought this, it is not pretty, but i had to buy it just to symbolize the crazy changes that are on their way at last i suppose.



When I was living in Jamestown, RI in 1976 I had the good fortune of becoming friends with a group of young kids who I mostly still remain friends with. Growing up on a three by nine mile island even though it was connected with two bridges allowing easy exit created a cocoon and insular experience for our young posse. When we each got our drivers license it was a freedom that is hard to explain adding a layer in the ability to exit into larger communities that often felt like were leaving our country. I am not exaggerating here. There is a unique safety net growing up on an island the size of Jamestown and it created a wonderful closeness among us. When we went to high school, since there was no high school in Jamestown, some went to Rogers High School in Newport, but most of us went to North Kingstown and the perception of Jamestown kids to NK kids was amusing. I loved growing up there. It was a freedom of stomping around barefoot, barely any parental guidance, bike riding, beach going, backgammon games and driving around the island endlessly. A few of us had family off the island in cities so we were exposed to the reality of bigger spaces like New York City and Boston and we ultimately exposed each other on the trips we would take together to visit family.

One of my oldest and dearest friends, Melissa, friends since sixth grade, along with a couple others who we both lost touch with used to do these crazy Christmas exchanges and we have great memories of this. I think we started it in seventh grade and continued well into our thirties until marriage and babies and relocating to areas not easy to get to at holiday time stopped the tradition. We also found ourselves wanting to reduce the madness of shopping and gift giving and the tradition just kind of stopped. Melissa and I continued it for a bit, but even now we barely do any gift exchanging and instead just share great conversation in our almost daily phone chats.

One of my dearest and favorite gifts ever from Melissa was a book by Ann Patchett called Truth and Beauty. It is a memoir about a very special friendship she had with Lucy Grealy also an author of the book, Autobiography of a Face. They met in 1981 and had a friendship lasting for over twenty years. This book describes that bond and intimacy that happens between two women who share life together as deep friends. It is one of Melissa’s favorite books and she gave it to me hoping I would love it as much as she did. I did. And this was the book that got me started on my own love affair with Ann Patchett. I have read and enjoyed most of her books and every time I read anything she writes, I am a better writer because of her. I appreciate great vocabulary in writing that is natural and not contrived. When I read Ann Patchett, she has my attention wholly and I am never disappointed. It is so apropos that someone who I have been best friends with for forty years would introduce me to a writer about her own dear friendship. When I saw Ann Patchett’s name flash in the NY Times in the opinion section of the Sunday Review, of course I hungrily devoured it.

It was called My Year of No Shopping and it reminded me of my yearlong quest to purge all of my junk and excessive stuff I have accumulated in the first half of my life. This mission of hers was to stop accumulating and like her many novels that have become my dear companions, this too gave me great pause.

I love to shop, not for clothes or shoes or purses, though I do love my Lululemon excursions (these are workout clothes so this doesn’t really count, right?). Actually my love is the thrill of spending money which is not a prudent choice in my life long term. I am sure I can tie this energy with my mother as she loves to shop likely still does but since she is not speaking to me I really don’t know this. When I reminisce about my mother, shopping is a kindred connection we share. I am guessing I learned the notion of consumerism = happiness and immediate gratification from her and when I am spending money I feel that kindred connection I otherwise long for from my mother. Sounds like it is time for another therapy appointment.

I have always been a great saver for retirement thanks to my grandfather’s influence, but the present day savings has never really been my strength. Art supplies, office supplies, gardening trinkets, kitchen gadgets, consignment furniture and my favorite, FOOD, all easy items to rationalize in my quest for the perfect notebook, pen or olive oil. The thought of deliberately not shopping for whatever parameters I set speaks to me. Ann’s comment on running out of lip balm and having a moment of panic when she realized buying more was off limits cracked me up as I stared at my 9 MAC lipsticks I just ordered so I would have the back up of the discontinued lipstick color I love. She decided to forage her cabinets and purses and lo and behold came up with four. She is probably a back up lip hoarder like myself.

I didn’t grow up in the Depression, but my grandparents did and my grandmother who tended to err on the side of frugality ironically spent a lot of money on backup. I get my need to have backup of things from her. Though she usually applied it to cans of soup on sale or toothpaste and coffee, I have found myself using it as a crutch to shop. Find a pair of sneakers I love? Buy two pairs in case they discontinue the style. Love those Lulu yoga pants? Buy four pairs because what if they stop making them? The list goes one and I am certifiably nuts when it comes to this. As a result, I have ten pairs of pants, sixteen tubes of my favorite lipstick and who knows what else lurking in the pockets of my coats and the closets of my home. As I contemplated the idea of giving up shopping for one full year with my own parameters, the one element that made me seriously consider this was Ann’s mention of how much time she realized she had on her hands. When I quit drinking for seven years, I found that I had exquisite amounts of time to create and consider. I wonder. Could I actually do this? The fact that I am even wobbling in the idea that I may not be able to should make jump on the bandwagon pronto. Ann made a list. She owns a bookstore in Nashville and immediately decided that buying books would not be a part of her list though now that I write this, I ask the question to her that you are all thinking, can’t she get her books for free? I mean I am not going put on my list to give up buying lotions and potions because I own a skin care business and I don’t have to pay for those so putting them on my list is kind of a scam. Sorry Ann you have been found out in that category, you are forgiven though because remember I love you.

I can feel the rationale overtaking my brain. How could I eliminate shopping? I mean I need soil for my garden in the spring. I need new sneakers for my workouts. What happens when I run out of my lipstick and my lips are on the path of dryness? I drop my phone like every other day and the screen needs to constantly be repaired. Am I supposed to give this up? Give up shopping for a year? How about a day? I still have 12 days left for 2017, maybe I could get it all in for the remainder. If any of you are considering joining this party with me, before 2017 ends, please buy some Ann Patchett books (except for Bel Canto, sorry Ann I tried three times). Or you could start right now and go to the library and borrow and return them ahead of schedule.

Ann Patchett again gets my brain turning and my heart thumping with her delicious prose. Once again she has my attention and watch out my fellow business owners, you may not be seeing me in 2018. Only time will tell.

my oldest friend Melissa, so lucky to know her along with my other superchicks in my life.