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Author Archives:Liz Reed

Once-more-we-saw-stars-book-cover

Living Through the Unimaginable

Once-more-we-saw-stars-book-coverThis week on October 9, it is the thirty-eighth anniversary of my daughter’s death. I recognize that it can be an unsettling sentence to read. It is shocking for me to write, as well.

Coleen was my firstborn, a daughter born early due to a congenital heart condition that no one suspected until just weeks before her birth. At the time, my ex-husband and I lived outside San Francisco. Two days after New Year’s Day, I was rushed to the University of California-SF Medical Center to await an unknown future. It was new territory for all of us – her father, and I, and our baby. Coleen was born on January 21, 1980, five weeks earlier than her due date.

Her prognosis was never very good from that critical day, and even earlier, according to her new doctors, neonatal specialists and pediatric cardiologists. And yet, she came home to us after a few short months, fragile, yet thriving. On my 28th birthday, when she was four months, a petite and beautiful baby, we were advised that she would not survive infancy. Her terminal diagnosis was the outcome of cardiomyopathy caused by a destructive virus that had also caused illness or defects to other unborn babies in San Francisco. Her right ventricle was acutely compromised by the infection.

We leaned upon our youthful energy and our extended and compassionate family. Our innate optimism commanded us to give Coleen the best life possible for as much time that she with us – and we had with her.

When we lost her, inevitably, one early fall evening in 1981, our lives were rent. I’ve never used that word before, but it comes to me, 38 years later, as a perfect word to describe the brutality of grief that separated us from the before and the after. A storm rents a ship to pieces. A nation is rended by racial upheaval. Our lives were rent by our loss.

Yet, we had our faith, and a new child on the way. We sustained four months of empty arms until life blessed us once again with a second daughter, another beautiful baby girl, this time healthy, with a birthday just two years after our precious Coleen was born. Eighteen months later, another gorgeous daughter was born. Our aching arms and shattered hearts were bursting with that new life. Parents will tell you that practicality takes over after birth, and a quiet, but disordered, grief sneakily hides in the memories and in the shadows.

There is no word in the English language for parents who have suffered the loss of a child. The widow has lost a husband. The widower has lost a wife. The orphan has lost both of his/her parents.

Yet, there is a word for the loss of a child in Arabic (pronounced “thakla”), which translates to bereaved mother. In Sanskrit, there is a word “vilomar,” which means “against the natural order.”

I find this lack in the English language strikingly odd because, over and over, we read and hear that there is no grief like the loss of a child. Yet, we are wordless in our sadness.

Alexander and Eliza Hamilton grieved the loss of their nineteen-year-old son, Philip, when he was shot in a senseless duel in 1801. (Of course, his father sustained the same fate at the hands of Aaron Burr, only three years later.) In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s impressive musical, Hamilton, the song It’s Quiet Uptown holds an emotional grip over anyone who has lost a child. After Philip’s death, the Hamiltons moved from busy Wall Street in Lower Manhattan to a mansion they built in northern Manhattan. It’s Quiet Uptown, a hushed and aching song, describes the anguish of Hamilton and his wife as they walk quietly down the streets of uptown New York, wrought together by their breaking hearts. Passersby watched the newcomers in pity because they realized that the two are “going through the unimaginable.”

Those are the agonizing words. They are the devastatingly simple description. Going through the unimaginable describes the loss of a child.

When I read that Jayson Greene, father of two-year-old Greta Green, had written a book due out last January, I impatiently awaited it. He and his wife Stacy lost their firstborn and only child Greta when she was hit by a falling brick on May 17, 2015, in New York City. Greta was spending the day with her grandmother and sitting on a bench on the sidewalk beneath a high rise windowsill that gave way. It was a freak and impossible accident that immediately changed Jayson’s and Stacy’s lives.

When we lost Coleen in 1981, there were few books to read to help us through our early grief. My library’s shelves and bookstore shelves were bereft of books about surviving the loss of a child. C.S. Lewis wrote of his crushing loss of his wife in A Grief Observed in 1961. Robert Frost wrote of a wife’s devastating grief and a husband’s pragmatic composure after the death of their infant son in Home Burial, one of Frost’s longest and earliest poems. It and other full or partial excerpts were included in Mary Jane Moffat’s compilation of the poetry and literature of mourning. That book, In the Midst of Winter, was published in 1982, just after I was searching for solace in the written word.

Greene, author of Once More We Saw Stars (2019), writes of his struggle living through a similar time of desolation and despair after the loss of a child. Writing in his journal, Greene described his early grief this way: “I am ice skating along the surface of my shock.” Waking slowly to realization each day, he writes, “What is it? What is it that feels so awful?”

“I remember. I am in hell.”

Jayson and Stacy Greene suffered in the void between being a parent and remaining childless for longer than I did. I had an unoccupied nursery and empty arms for such a short time – only four months. And while theirs, and my life, became whole again, the unfathomable had happened and had changed us forever.

Greene published a New York Times Opinion piece 17 months later in October 2016 following the birth of their second child, a son. He wrote that “life remains precarious,” and he describes the feelings of his children’s precious and fragile lives in Children Don’t Always Live. The title of that piece is raw and jarring, but it defines reality for those who have lived the unimaginable – that of losing a child.

Greene titled his book Once More We Saw Stars as a reference to Dante’s Inferno – that dark time in the dark wood. Climbing out, Dante writes that “To get back up to the shining world from there … through a round aperture I saw appear some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears, where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.”

If you know a family who has lost a child, or you have suffered loss and are looking for words to describe the pain … and reading of faith and hope and survival, read Jayson Greene’s beautiful memoir of his family’s journey through grief. Surprisingly uplifting, Greene’s book writes about “the fragility of life” and the “unconquerable power of love” that will make anyone feel less alone. Perhaps it will be just the right book at just the right time.

Charlotte Canelli is the Library Director at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Look for her article in the October 10, 2019 issue if the Norwood Transcript.

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Happy Moving Day!

Art-of-Happy-Moving-book-coverHave you ever had the experience of finding the exact right book at the exact wrong moment? And I don’t mean those times when you’re sure you put the book down somewhere where you knew you definitely wouldn’t forget it, and you know you’ll find it eventually but you’ve looked EVERYWHERE and have given it up for lost, so you finally pay the late fee at the library and get back in your car only to find it under the front seat.

Instead, I mean those occasions when you don’t even know you should be looking for a book and the universe intervenes to drop into your hands the book that perfectly fits your situation…only about two days after it would have been really useful.

Friends, I am living that moment as we speak. A few days ago I was standing at the New Nonfiction shelf on the library’s first floor (at the bottom of the staircase, before you walk into the Fiction section, if you’re interested), just minding my own business and turning a few books face-out to attract readers, when I found it. I found the book that, had I had it two months, two weeks, or even two days earlier, would have made my life much less stressful. Even if I didn’t have time to follow all the practical advice in the book, I would have at least had the mental comfort of the author’s light-hearted prose. But no. I found “The Art of Happy Moving: How to declutter, pack, and start over while maintaining your sanity and finding happiness,” by Ali Wenzke, literally the day after I moved.

Wenzke’s book isn’t an exact how-to book for my situation – she has a lot of experience with cross-country moves and I only moved locally within the Boston area, for instance – but she’s got a lot of good advice about how to prepare for the move, checklists for moving day itself, and even pro tips for how to settle into your new home and neighborhood. It’s also a quick read, I’m already halfway through and I’ve been busy unpacking.

More than anything, “The Art of Happy Moving” is a moral support kind of book. Other books and websites get more into the nitty-gritty of evaluating your finances before you buy a house, how to budget all the different costs of home ownership, etc, but the strength of Wenzke’s book is that it feels like having a conversation with a trusted friend who has absolutely been there before, and who knows how to get through a move not only unscathed, but also better off on the other side.

And the real showpiece of Wenzke’s book? “The Art of Happy Moving” is chock-full of great advice for how to do every step of the moving process – with children. From making regular (even non-moving-related) decluttering into a fun game, to discussing the move with kids, to helping them integrate into their new school, Wenzke gives real-world advice that is absolutely worth checking out.

So, how would my move have gone differently if my timing hadn’t been so ironic? Things probably would have shaken out differently in a number of ways. For instance, having an official timeline checklist would have been helpful. I also might have narrowed down my search to a shorter list of towns earlier in the process, saving myself time not looking at towns less likely to fit my lifestyle.

One of this book’s chapters is called “The secret to happy moving: get rid of everything you own,” and she’s not really kidding. I had actually started decluttering over the winter, getting rid of things that didn’t “spark joy,” a la Marie Kondo. I also started packing well in advance of my move, but by the time I got to moving day I wished I’d gotten rid of even more.

Luckily for me, Wenzke includes a number of chapters aimed at the post-move reader, so my timing might now be so unfortunate after all. Of particular interest are her chapters on arranging your new house to be a happy home with special places for your family and for entertaining, and on how to meet people and make friends in your new town.

Kitty and I are settling into our new place – and yes the book does have a chapter on moving with pets – and getting back to our routine after the controlled chaos of moving. Some boxes were packed so long ago that I’ve forgotten what’s in them, so unboxing feels a little like opening gifts. I’m glad to be moving on to the next step in the process, and even though moving is a necessary activity it’s not something I recommend if you can help it. However, if you’re contemplating or faced with a move, I do recommend picking up a copy of “The Art of Happy Moving.” The Norwood library owns the hard copy, plus both the ebook and e-Audiobook versions are available digitally through hoopla, which is accessible to all Norwood residents. Happy moving day!

Liz Reed is the Adult Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood MA. You can read her article in the Thursday July 11 edition of The Transcript Newspaper.

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An Unlikely Advocate of Aromatherapy

flowers-and-essential-oil-bottleAromatherapy became an interest of mine, oddly enough, after attending a technology conference. A few years back, I was lucky enough to attend the “Computers in Libraries” conference in Virginia. As an Information Technology Librarian, I have always loved attending this conference. It’s very exciting to see what other libraries around the country (and beyond!) are doing with technology to better serve their communities.

After my first day at the conference, I was just exhausted. There is so much information to process, and I had two more days to go, so I went back to the small AirBnB that I had rented to relax. On the nightstand next to the bed, my hosts had left an essential oil diffuser with some instructions. I was totally unfamiliar with diffusers and even essential oils at that point, but filled it up with water, put some drops of peppermint oil in, and started it up. It was SO relaxing! I immediately texted my wife and told her about it. She was really excited and mentioned that she had been eyeing several different diffusers online, but thought that I would think she was crazy! When I got home, we ordered a really nice diffuser from Amazon and hit up our local health food store for the oils to go with it. My wife and I have incorporated it into our nightly routine, and after the kids are in bed, we put on a good show and a nice relaxing essential oil blend in the diffuser to unwind. When the kids are particularly energetic near bedtime, we also use a roll-on combination of lavender and a carrier oil (oils should never be applied directly to the skin!) to help calm them down- it works wonders!

As I began to do more research, I learned that diffusing essential oils is part of a holistic healing treatment known as “aromatherapy.” In aromatherapy, inhaling the steam from essential oils stimulates the olfactory system, and the beneficial molecules from the diffused oil then enter into the lungs, where they are then dispersed throughout the body. When the molecules reach the brain, they stimulate (or relax) the emotions. Diffusing different essential oils will, of course, produce different scents, but depending on the essential oil (or oil mixtures) that you use, you can also improve your mood, boost your immune system, improve sleep quality, treat headaches and migraines, and help with relaxation and meditation.

The library offers some great books on essential oils and aromatherapy, in particular through our Hoopla app, which will give you instant access to a plethora of useful titles on the subject. Perhaps one the best and most comprehensive offered through the Hoopla app is “The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy” by Valerie Ann Worwood. Worwood’s book delves deep into not only the many essential oils that exist, but is also organized into chapters that give essential oil recommendations for specific individuals (men, women, children, athletes, travelers, etc.). Worwood further divides each individual type into a specific ailment or consideration that might pertain to them, for example, babies and young children should only be exposed to certain types of diffused oils and in specific ratios, due to their extra sensitive skin, so the book gives a good overview of what oils are appropriate for which age type to assist caregivers in diffusing appropriate oil types.

If you are new to diffusing essential oils, or essential oils in general, my best recommendation to start with is “the mother of all essential oils:” lavender. Lavender is a great essential oil that has a lot of utility and health benefits. It’s safe for babies (when diluted) and some recent evidence
shows it has been effective in reducing the symptoms of colic in babies (take note, restless parents!). It has a very flowery aroma, and is an antiseptic, antibiotic, and antidepressant. Lavender can also easily mix well with other essential oils like rose, grapefruit, and sweet orange, which smell great and have health benefits of their own. If properly diluted, lavender can also be applied topically to heal rashes and burns.

I have tried many different essential oils and oil blends, and I have a lot of favorites, but my personal favorite, both in terms of scent, health benefits, and mood relaxing properties, is frankincense. In case you ever wondered why one of the Magi presented frankincense to the baby Jesus; it is because it was highly prized due to its powerful rejuvenating and revitalizing qualities (perhaps you can also see the symbolism of the gift). Frankincense is a natural disinfectant that boosts the immune system, refreshes skin, can ease respiratory infection symptoms, and is, to me, the perfect essential oil for meditation. Frankincense is the yin to lavender’s yang. Lavender is soft and floral, frankincense by contrast, has a strong woody, smoky, earthy scent to it, which I really enjoy, but might not be to everyone’s liking. You can learn more about frankincense, and other seasonally relevant scents, myrrh, pine needle, mistletoe, and others from the article “Gifts of Healing… from Herbs of the Season” which can be found though our Gale Database section on the library website.

I hope that you check out what the library has to offer on aromatherapy, learn more, and try diffusing some oils yourself. As a thirty-five year old man, I never thought that I would be writing a column about essential oils, and my discovery of aromatherapy was very unlikely to say the least, but I am a believer in the benefits that it can offer. Remember, if you are new to using our Hoopla app, or would like assistance in setting it up, you can schedule a one-on-one tech appointment here at the library. We are happy to get you connected and on your way to learning more!

Brian DeFelice is the Technology Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for his article in the December 19, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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Fall Flavors Sans Pumpkin Spice

Saving-the-season-cookbook-coverLast fall, I was unpacking the groceries from a trip to the market. My husband popped into the kitchen to “help” put the food away, a.k.a. survey my selections so he can plan what I refer to as his “snack-tivities” for the week.

After a few minutes of cupboards opening, I heard him exclaim, “Ugh! Why would anyone buy this?!” I turned around, expecting him to be holding one of the weird veggies I buy without knowing what I’ll do with them, but nope, he’s holding a box of pumpkin spice Cheerios. I thought they looked good, but my husband thought I was trying to poison him. This was the moment that I learned that my husband hates almost all pumpkin spice flavored things.

He always ate my squash pie at Thanksgiving dinner, which has the same flavoring as pumpkin spice, so why this sudden hatred for this popular fall flavor? Apparently, the problem is over-exposure. Dunkin’s introduced a pumpkin muffin a few years ago, which I thought was a good fit. New Englanders have been eating spiced pumpkin bread for centuries, so why not make it muffin shaped? But the pumpkin spicing didn’t stop there. Now there are pumpkin spice Oreos, pumpkin spice tea, and pumpkin spice Peeps. Even I draw the line at pumpkin-y marshmallow chicks.

Still, I love warm flavors. Fall and winter are my favorite food seasons and my taste trends toward old fashioned. My favorite meals are the ones served from one giant roasting pan and heat up the whole house in their making. Give me apples, squash that will last months in a root cellar, cozy breads, and warm Indian pudding. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy a good avocado and egg sandwich- I am a millennial after all (barely), but if I knew it was my last meal, I would be ordering my grandmother’s Canadian boiled dinner followed by a gigantic slice of squash pie.

My husband is the opposite. He also likes warm flavors, if by warm, you mean HOT. He loves thermonuclear chicken wings, spicy and tangy fish tacos, and self-concocted barbecue sauces that make my eyes water. If I am an autumn/winter eater, he is all about summer flavors. I think that might be why he hates seeing pumpkin spice flavored everything lining the grocery store shelves- it is a signal that summer is over.

For my husband’s sake, I am trying to avoid pumpkin spice overload this autumn and am seeking out fresh fall flavors that won’t induce winter woes, but will still use the ingredients available from our local farms and orchards. Luckily, the library has more than a few books to help me.

The first book I found does less to celebrate the upcoming cooler weather and more to stretch the tastes of summer further. Saving the Season: a Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving, by Kevin West is a super book for gardeners and farm-share households. I am always scrambling in October to preserve the glut of late season tomatoes and other garden goodies practically falling off the tangle of vines that is my vegetable patch. This book gives options- tasty, tasty options.

The book that I am just loving right now is Dishing Up the Dirt: Simple Recipes for Cooking Through the Seasons, by Andrea Bemis. The author is a passionate farmer and has crafted recipes that take advantage of what her organic farms has on offer each season. She experiments with flavors in recipes like her beet, walnut and kale pizza or winter squash carbonara, but still includes new twists on classic recipes, like tomato sauce to use up the last of the season’s tomatoes, and sweet potato pie.

Another book that made my mouth water is America Farm to Table, by Mario Batali. Batali also takes on using local, seasonal ingredients to make yummy dishes that will please a crowd. He looks to towns and cities across the country for inspiration. I found that the recipes inspired by Vail, Colorado fit well with what my garden is producing and what is available at nearby farmers markets. The beef and chard meatballs were lick-the-plate-clean good.

Even with summer quickly fading away, I am hoping to ease the transition into fall for my anti-pumpkin spice husband with a few recipes from these great titles. Maybe I can even save a few recipes to take the sting out of that first snowfall.

Alli Palmgren is the Technology Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Alli’s column in the September 20, 2018 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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The Day the Fugitive Stopped Running

The-Fugitive-posterI was eleven when I moved from the city to the suburbs in the East Bay Area west of San Francisco. I left all the city streets behind – in the 1880s Berkeley had been designed as a grid that easily and efficiently moved from the Bay waters to the golden hills above. Those foothills rose across to the Sierra in the distance.

Moving as a pre-teen, I also abandoned all of my elementary school friends and started afresh in a town where the valleys and grassy rolling hills were situated next to the freeway that headed to Sacramento and Nevada.

There were three or four floor plans in the houses of this post-World War II development of Pinole Valley Estates. Houses were lined up on the streets that were tucked among the ravines. The outside paint color and landscaping distinguished one home from another, but the interiors were eerily similar. Spending the night in a classmate’s home was always a bit surreal when the pink or green porcelain sink in the twin, back-to-bath baths matched those in my own home. Each kitchen had the modern miracle of a dishwasher; each garage was built for two cars.  One was usually a station wagon. The small, manicured yards were fenced and lines with wild, red berried pyracantha and tall, resilient oleander bushes.

Luckily, during this baby boom, nearly every home on my street housed a family with two to six kids. Summer days were spent building rafts on Pinole Creek or navigating the miles of golden hills yet to be developed.  Early evenings into dusk, there were perhaps ten to twenty of us playing Kick the Can. This was a California childhood in the 60s where black-and-white televisions sported rabbit ears and garages were emptied for Friday night neighborhood dances.

It took a few weeks after we moved into our new home for the neighborhood girls to welcome me with open arms. However, kids are kids and it didn’t take long for my new next-door neighbor to become my new best friend. She had two brothers the same ages as my younger brothers. Her house was two-storied, mine was only one. We spent hours in her upstairs room upstairs reading Teen and Ingénue magazines and listening to her extensive collection of 78s. In my house, we learned to sew and type and watch my stay-at-home mother in awe as she made Jell-O parfaits and cut-up cakes.

Because her dad worked the graveyard shift at the Southern Pacific Railroad, he was home during the day and the television was always on. Or so it seemed to me. In my home, the television was strictly managed by my step-father. It was only on Sunday nights that the family watched our black-and-white TV – the Wonderful World of Disney and the Ed Sullivan Show.

Therefore, my memories of many television shows of the 60s are of watching them along with my adopted next-door family.  Bewitched, Bonanza, Gomer Pyle, Route 66, Mr. Ed and countless other television shows (and their reruns) were on back to back at the Campbell house. One that intrigued me the most, I think, was The Fugitive.  Dark and brooding David Janssen was running from the law every episode. There was no need to see them in any order because each episode was another town, another cast of characters, and another chase by Indiana State Police Detective Lt. Gerard.

Years later, of course, Harrison Ford starred in the movie version in 1993 (now twenty-five years past!) A fan of Mr. Ford, I’ve seen the movie countless times. The details are changed in the movie, but the premise remains the same. Dr. Kimble’s wife was murdered by a one-armed man and Dr. Kimball must prove his innocence.

Many people surmise that the Fugitive was based on the story of real Dr. Sam Sheppard who was accused of murdering his wife in their home on Lake Erie, Ohio. Although Sheppard was convicted of the crime – second-degree murder – and given a sentence of life in prison, he always professed his innocence. He claimed his wife was murdered by a bushy-haired man. He was acquitted ten years later in a retrial. The creator and writer of the Fugitive series, however, denied the connection to Sam Sheppard.

The Fugitive ran for four years with thirty 51-minutes episodes produced each year. They were aired on Tuesday nights at 10. Knowing this, it was obviously summer reruns I watched next door – probably beginning in 1965 or 1966. The first three seasons were filmed and aired in black and white; the last and fourth season (1966-1967) was in color.  The last season began in September 1966 and 28 episodes were aired through mid-April.

Producers and writers of The Fugitive wanted to leave Dr. Richard Kimble forever running. However, they realized that their audience needed a conclusion.  ABC’s vice president of programming, Leonard Goldberg claimed in a Vanity Fair article (Aug. 29, 2017) “I realized we were going to leave viewers empty-handed, and that was wrong.”

However, audiences, who had seen the fourth season end in April 1967, were made to wait until August for the finale. The Judgment Part 1 and Part 11 were aired on August 22 and 29, 1967.  Because it was aired in the summer, I may have seen those episodes. I know for sure that the Campbell family would have watched them on August 22 and 29. A record 78 million viewers, or 72% of the homes that had televisions, watched The Judgment – Part II.  For more than ten years afterward, the final episode of The Fugitive held the record for being the most-watched in television history. The Fugitive was a television milestone.

I am struck by the names of actors who were cast as one, two, three or four-time guest characters: Ronnie Howard, Bruce Dern, Brian Keith, Charles Bronson – the list is well over one-hundred of well-known names. Because each episode of the Fugitive stood on its own, stars often played different characters in several episodes.

The Morrill Memorial Library has the four seasons of the Fugitive in its collection. You just might want to binge-watch along with me and travel back to the 60s again – or for the first time.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the May 24, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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