Category Archives: Books and other Soul Food

My Hospital, My Church and Daily Meditation

There are places in Colorado where the water comes gushing out of the igneous rock at temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. These spots were well known to the Native Coloradoans: Utes, Arapahoe. For Chief Ouray, the hot springs that issue from high in the mountains at around 8,000 feet were a known place of healing – both physical and spiritual – for decades.

Water is an amazing healing agent. Walking beside it is calming. Swimming is cooling. Soaking in a hot springs, you can absorb all the mineral nutrients and warmth Mother Nature has to offer you. And rain, yes rain washes away the things that are past, maybe things we would like to forget, and carries them on down the river.

I have only recently learned to be a water baby. A variety of factors caused me not to favor swimming in my youth. But when I returned to the high desert of Western Colorado as a middle-aged woman, my favorite get-away was Chief Ouray’s old haunt in Ouray Colorado. I would go there tired and bruised and come away healed. The vapor cave I frequented was once a hospital and it became mine – and sometimes my church – my place of spiritual renewal – because it evoked such peace and gratitude in me.

This summer-in the desert of Arizona- the temperature inside my car clocked 120 degrees. The water bottle in the console was beyond lukewarm, beyond tepid – it was hot enough to pretend I was drinking tea. During a summer like that, it is important to find a beach, walk into the water, and thereby escape the temperatures over ninety or 100, or 110. What is the use of living next to massive Lake Powell if you never venture in the water? For the hottest days of June, July and August, I went to the beach more often than not. Yet, sometimes my habitual swimming and cooling is interrupted by travel or urgent business.

I returned to the lake in the desert the other night. The last time I swam was on a weekend trip to Ouray. It had been nine days. I missed the water. It seems water is a thing I must have daily just like a walk, or meditation, or prayer.

When I was growing up we had everyday clothes and Sunday clothes; workday activities and Sunday activities.

Ouray is my Sunday place, my church. But Lake Powell is my daily maintenance. One is natural and one man made. One is Sunday best and the other is for everyday.

Wade in the Water. 










A Hike and Write Challenge

She threw down the gauntlet in such a casual way via Facebook private message.  “Why don’t you,” she said, “Write an essay like this about our hike today?” Very well. I love to hike.  I love to write. The only problem is, the example she attached is that of a well-known uncategorical naturalist, wilderness lover and advocate. So what am I supposed to say?  “Move over Edward Abbey, I am here to write poetically about today’s hike with another great old broad – a regular rock toucher – a tree hugger – a lover of dirt in the great outdoors and fastidious, clean, professional detail indoors”

Contemporary that I am, I am no Meloy, Childs or Tempest. In fiction, I write about the philosophical struggles of relationships; girl meets boy, nefarious religion tamed, childhood injustices overcome.  Truth is, the best way to ferret out these bits of philosophical thought and what I really think is to take a hike.  Sometimes a stroll by running water, other times rigorous switchbacks on high desert boulders, and still less frequently, a hike with a friend.

I believe that there are semblances between seemingly disparate ideas if we can stand back and see a larger picture.” Terry Tempest Williams

Very well then, I whole-heartedly agree.  I take up the challenge – daily.

A Tale of Two Books

Birthdays are the best of times when your primary gifters are bibliophiles and the package arrives on your birthday.  My parents will gift me – usually money – since I am known to be picky; but my Brother and Sister-in-law, consummate gift givers, inevitably send a book – as does my cousin.

We are readers, thinkers, cerebral. We trade ideas.  Theirs are stronger. I usually lose.  Except when it is my birthday or Christmas and then I reel in the catch. Not one, but two books this year.  Two books arrived right on the day.

I opened them hastily and devoured the note. “Happy Birthday, Cherry, Signature was a pleasant surprise to me…Though science wasn’t the the focus, she (Elizabeth Gilbert) had an impressive grasp on the field….Hope the other one is good.  Women at King’s English love it.”

Almost reverently, I opened the cover of The Signature of All Things, and began reading immediately. It was my Friday, so reading irresponsibly was an option. Good thing I had flexible time, because it was a page-turner. I had to agree with my S-I-L, “It pulled me in, pushed me away, called me back…” Deftly written, with succinct word choice, I got just enough character sketch to profoundly understand the players. Fully enlightened with authentic Victorian vocabulary, social customs, sexuality, ideals and intellectual thought, the writer takes an epic anthropological and historical safari through Darwinism, abolitionism, 19th century religion, and nods forward to Freud’s eventual analysis of human relationships.

Next day I met my cousin for lunch. She handed me a gift bag commenting something about the women in her book club and reminding me I could exchange the book if I already had it. I never exchange books, I just gift them on to someone else. I knew I had not read it, but the cover looked vaguely familiar, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Back in my room I continued my mesmerizing read of Signature.  There were times I wept and times I wanted with everything in me to resist the inexorable magnetism toward penultimate redemption, to hope against hope for a relational ending different than the inevitable.  Abruptly, came a moment of suspense. Page 344 was followed by page 377.  Unannounced cliff-hanger! Idly, I toyed with the idea of turning to the second book. But this would not do.  Signature, is the type of book that stays with you, lives in your head while you go about your work and play.  Nevertheless, I unsheathed the other book. Sure enough, it was twin to the one in the gift bag from my cousin. I switched off the light and fell asleep.

For the next few days, I took a reader’s hiatus.  Summer being the busy season at work, there is not much opportunity for reading once you allow for overtime.

Following work one evening, I grabbed a quick dinner to go and stopped at Barnes Noble intending to find and read the missing 33 pages. There on the bargain shelf – for under $6.00 – was the book I sought. Hearing my story of missing pages, the clerk surmised that was the reason for the crate of hasty discounts.  We checked the pages.  Intact. What is the harm in purchasing a duplicate book? Already, I knew it to be the most well-written book of the decade – though not my favorite.

And that is how there came to be duplicates of two very good reads on my nightstand.
And that is how there came to be duplicates of two very good reads on my nightstand.

Yesterday was a holiday. I opened The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry at 5:00 pm.  I closed it at 11:15 pm.  I am not sorry I own two copies.  One will go on loan immediately.

Have you read these two books?  You should.  Immediately. Which shall I loan you first?


Ebony and Ivory -Confiding in the keys

I got a bit historical at the piano the other night.  My roommate, who was baking muffins in the open kitchen just above me, got a glimpse into my very heart, soul and spiritual journey in that moment – ‘tho she may not know it.

Rather than rehearsing through my usual repertoire of folk and pop, performed predominately at nursing homes, I let memory and experiment have free expression.  Using all 88 keys and liberal glissandos, I took my childhood musical memories on a tour into adulthood. I dredged up Sunday school songs, folk songs and a smattering of top 40 – mostly things I had never tried to improvise before.  What came out?

Dormant feelings. Repressed pain and joy. Snippets and pieces, long forgotten and now ruminated on.  Thankfully, my roommate loves piano and overlooks the imperfections – especially when we are both doing common ordinary utilitarian things like baking and practicing.

She hummed along and danced about her work.  We share the same birth year and a similar religious upbringing so most of the melodies were familiar to her. She did, however, pause for a chuckle when I came flourishing down from a rollicking “Do Lord” to a sultry “Imagine.”

No one.  No one knows me so well as my piano. Every now and then my soul is laid bare and then healed – comforted. 30 minutes spent on a wooden bench addressing 88 keys yields more self-awareness than an hour with a therapist who knows me not. 

To Know and Be Known and the best gift ever

Did you ever receive a gift, large or small, that comforted your soul down to the very core because it was so appropriate to your needs, taste and personality? Sometimes you don’t know you have a need until it is met unexpectedly and you are made whole.
When you were a kid, did you get an extra special gift and beg to take it to school and show it off? I got a gift like that this year. The season of gift-giving is just past. My Christmas is complete. I have received a box from my brother and sister-in-law that scratches an itch way down deep. For the last 23 years they have been a partnership of quintessential gift givers. Last year it was hiking boots – and smart wool socks. This year? Oh, frabjous day! Nobody knows me like my brother and my sister-in-law.
In my honor, they gave a gift to Heifer International.
As if that wasn’t enough; I got two books, TWO, with titles made just for me: “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a Word That Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain and “The Walk” by William deBuys. For 24 hours I skipped cooking and gorged myself on the finest trail mix I have ever ingested. And, I got two notepads and a packet of glorious carbon pencils with wondrous sayings printed down the length of each one, encouraging things like, “I write, therefore I am,” “Sit down and get writing!” “Write from the heart.”

What was the best gift you received this year? Time alone? Quality time with someone? Words of affirmation? Some gift of service? An expensive material gift? In my history, any gift over $10 is pretty expensive. The best gifts are those where the thought counts exponentially because the giver was not thinking of expense or obligation; but specifically of who you are, your role in the world, and what the deep desires of your heart are.

Dueling with the daily despond

Sometimes, I feel like I have only two settings for my moods; life is wonderful, or get me out of here.  I am constantly observing my habits for ways to take charge of the daily despond. I am not talking about major, long-term, unrelenting depression here. A proper duel doesn’t last long.  Someone wins.  The other loses. The day moves forward. When I take on the daily despond of rising and getting going, I want to be the one who wins.

Maybe these heart healthy habits apply to you too.

Looking up Monument Canyon from Independence
Looking up Monument Canyon from Independence

Walk or hike daily. Second only to getting a good night’s rest, walking or hiking is the most deeply spiritual thing I do.

Make music Making music is right up there with walking and hiking  as brain, heart and soul food. Singing or playing a wind instrument adds an aerobic bonus.

Read and Write –  Sometimes, life is dissatisfying simply because I have not spent time in the company of great thinkers via a good book. Other times, penning a well turned phrase or two in my journal will bring contentment

Eat well I have experienced the jubilant feeling of wellbeing often enough to know that’s what I want every possible day. Eating well includes on time, often and healthful.  Pinto beans are disastrous for my feelings; also, anything with caffeine – including chocolate.  Too little sugar makes me droop.  On the other hand, too much sugar is catastrophic. I suffer in body as well as spirit when I succumb to gorging on my favorite sweets.

As long as I make a beeline for the good things in life – apples, lovely salads, chicken and veggie stir fries, my body and my spirit communicate well. When I cave to the occasional temptation of carbonated drinks, an ice cream, wine or mixed drinks, I pay for it the the next morning – seldom with a headache, but frequently with a vague dissatisfied feeling of non-wellbeing.

Rise with the sun I like to let my body sleep in while my brain is waking up. Rising before dawn is a struggle. Whenever possible, I like to wake naturally with the dawn. Optimum for my frame of mind, is waking gradually  without alarm and having a few moments between sleep and full speed ahead. In these moments, my brain and heart process new ideas and revelations.  I notice what I really think or feel of a goal, problem or relationship after sleeping on it.

This idea is not unique to me.  Melody Beattie recommends paying close attention to your first thoughts and revelations on waking: “Morning Cues, There is an important message for us first thing every day.  Often, once we get started with the day, we may not listen as closely to ourselves and life as we do in those still moments when we first awaken.  An ideal time to listen to ourselves is when we are laying quietly, our defenses are down, and we’re open and most vulnerable. ..lay still and listen and then accept the message.”

Get outside fast When I must set an alarm, my next technique is to get outside as soon as possible, go to the door and stick my head out, open a window.  If the great outdoors is not available to me for some reason, my other option is to get into the shower and let an abundance of hot water cheer me up. Hot running water will forever be my modern luxury of choice. Usually, by the time I am dressed, made-up and out the door, I am invigorated.

Sleep well, rise with the sun, get outside fast, walk, make music, read and write – these all earn a Healthy Heart label.  What choices do you make to keep body and soul healthy?

27 Dresses, chick flick with a message

musingIf you have ever been on the care-taker side of codependent; continuously putting the needs of others above your own, you need to see this movie.

The message of “27 Dresses” was one I sorely needed to hear. It was about loyalty and persevering in service to others-to a fault. It was about a journalist who intuitively pointed out the flaw of the caretaker and, deft as a counselor, kept his focus on the issue and the cure. It was about a best friend who admits her own moral compass does not always point due north, but still cares enough to hold Jane accountable.

In the movie “27 Dresses” Jane finally learns to speak up for herself. The things she says are truths that need to be spoken. But, she does it all wrong. Her friend Casey points out that she unleashed 20 years of hurt in a cruel way. Instead of just going straight to the person and speaking the truth, Jane waited until she was completely angry and then exposed her sister publicly. People suffered. Jane suffered.  Some important relationships were nearly lost.

I have been there before; both on the job and in the home.  It is a place where you perform a small intervention (as it was termed in communications class), but something goes wrong.  Either you do it horribly wrong or it is received in the worst possible way.  The result is a complete and absolute end of the relationship.  Talking has no result.  Apologies go unheeded. Reconciliation and restoration are out of the question.

Why is it so hard for a people pleaser – someone who really does care about others- to speak directly? How is it we think that covert hints are better than direct confrontation; clever exposures more valid than courageously speaking our own needs?  Is it wise to keep stuffing our own wants until we explode in overkill? As a result of covert, clever overkill; I have been accused of being mean and controlling for exposing the weaknesses and deceit of others, when I most want to be known as a loving and accommodating person.

27 Dresses” is also a story about second chances. It turned out alright. Jane was contrite about doing it wrong and she immediately acted on doing things right to the favor of her future.  Her sister took the chance to hear and be heard and it benefitted her future behavior as well. Both were better people for truth spoken and heeded.

Some things I covet from 27 Dresses:

1) friends who stick with you and hold you accountable until you do the right thing the right way; family who loves unconditionally,  and the chance to keep practicing until you get it right.

2) to be like Jane, tirelessly doing unto others what I would have them do for me.

3) to be so true to myself that it raises the bar of loving my neighbor as I love myself.

Pretty strong messages for a chick-flick, don’t you think?

Would you like your closure before or after death?

ProbingI have heard psychologists recommend it as important to get closure before the death of  a significant other; to confront the father who abandoned, the mother who neglected or the parent who exacted too violent a punishment, however just. I know healthy adults who had these conversations with aging parents with happy result. Sin was acknowledged, forgiveness was offered and accepted – sometimes even begged.

When death comes unexpectedly soon and we are left with question after question and no closure; what then?

Many years ago, when I was a fresh divorcée; raw from every attempt to keep a husband who wanted freedom, I heard a panel of young widows on Focus on the Family. They were discussing with Dr. Dobson the pain of their loss.  One said the most painful time was when she saw a man checking out at the store.  From behind, he looked like her husband.  She resisted the urge to run throw her arms about him and was devastated when he turned and the illusion was broken.

I knew something of that experience, and longed to give my response. Though the finality of divorce is a bit stickier than the finality of death; in a small town, the chances of actually meeting my estranged husband at the store were real. So too, the possibility of seeing him with another woman. Restraint was essential, denial useless.

Over time, I came to see that denial might have been faced with healthy result much earlier in the relationship. I endeavored to write a novel about it-to help others with my experience. That book and two others remain works in progress.

TTTD Ebook promoEnter psychologist turned author Bonnie Grove whose book “Talking to the Dead,” deals with similar issues of love and loss, appeasement and denial – and closure.  Only this is closure with the already dead.

What do you think?  What would you want? Is it better to unmask denial or betrayal and find closure with the living; or to discover, after death, those things you never wanted to know?


I am mildly disappointed in The Hunger Games

Cherry Odelberg, photo credit Kevin Decker 2010

I have just finished reading The Hunger Games.  It was a great book. I am mildly dissatisfied with the conclusion.  Before I proceed to analyze why, I am sure you have one of two possible reactions which must be dealt with before you can concentrate on what I have to say.

1. Why are you just now getting around to reading this book?


2. What is a 58 year old woman doing reading a YA fiction book?

The simple answer to both questions is: I am a writer, mother, grandmother and I hold down job(s) in the real world.

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins, 2008), is more than a dawning of love between vampires or fidelity and character among institutional witches and it is worth a thorough read.

The overall narrative initially and consistently reminded me of Animal Farm or Brave New World, a couple of futuristic stories in the junior great books anthologies, and some ancient myth.  It is a book to entertain, to take you on adventure, to make you think. And thinking is what I did as I turned pages – faster and faster into the wee hours.

My first disappointment came with Peeta. I wanted him to be less passive, more warrior.  But he is only sixteen.  How much can you expect of a 16 year old, a grasp of all the virtues and character traits including Love?  These are issues I yet ponder at my age and I am a voracious reader in part due to my endless search for the ideal. Peeta certainly grasps the essence of unconditional and enduring love. Also, it is hard to find fault with his determined philosophy to not let the competition change who he is.  Why do I have trouble with his inactivity and passivity, do I not truly believe all you need is love?

My lingering disappointment has to do with the ending. She took the fruit and gave some to him – but they didn’t eat it, not really, they only pretended to. They outsmarted the gamekeepers and the Capitol, but, in so doing, did they compromise who they were? What if they had taken the fruit and swallowed it? Might rebellion have broken out  in the districts immediately?

Perhaps a Romeo and Juliet suicide is not the proper death to glamorize as an example to the YA of today. We have been aware of a high suicide rate among the young ever since I was in high school. Publishers, gatekeepers, vocal Christians and psychologists alike would frown on a dual suicide ending. No, besides ending the writer’s opportunity for a Katniss and Peeta sequel, a suicide ending too, would have been disappointing.

So, for the sake of honor.  For the sake of everything good and right and true and heroic.  I would have a true martyr’s ending. It would have been impossible not to cry. As it was, my only tears while reading the book were brought on by the district 11 bread parachute.

In my ending, Peeta flung his knife. Katniss laid down her bow. They were shot instantly for their rebellion and disobedience. Rebellion in districts 12 and 11 broke out and was widely imitated in other districts. Were their families in danger?  Of course. Family is always in danger. It is simply a matter of drawing a line in the sand sooner. In this way, Peeta’s integrity remains intact as does Katniss’s courageous honor. As it was, she took the fruit and gave some also to Adam, I mean Peeta, and the ideal took a step backwards.  But, they were only 16 after all. How could they know that the integrity of their controlled Universe rested on one decision; that all hell would later break loose; that they would live only to fight again?

Oh, the bliss of holiday music

There is nothing quite like the joy of having heard a good musical concert; having seen an exceptionally  good movie; reading a good book; or going for a walk and having a great intellectual thought.   You find yourself crowing inside, wanting to say to everyone you meet, “Hey, the best thing just happened to me, I am overjoyed.”

What?  What happened?  Did you win the lottery? Meet the person of your dreams?

No, not that.  I…I just heard a perfectly executed, exquisite picardy third last night-from mere high school children; and I am undone.  

Sometimes one great musical moment is enough to make you forget any amateurish antics or dissonance that went before. Beautiful harmonies, well executed, heal the emotion if not the soul. I wish it were not so rare.

It happened to me once in Texas, at a state fair.  The midway was so noisy, the hawkers so abrasive, we acquired headaches and nausea and determined to leave early.  On the way to the gate, we saw that the President’s Own Marine Band was about to perform.  We detoured. The moment the huge bells of euphonium low brass turned our way, mighty decibels of perfectly pitched perfection went straight to our eardrums, soothing as only music can.

“Perhaps,” you will say, “It is all in the eye, the mind, of you – the beholder.”

Ah, yes, and may it continue.  I cannot think of anything better than to be a flesh and blood music amplifier.  Off to church now, in anticipation that the drums and bass will gently rock me toward even more gratitude to the creator for making me thus.