Good Reads


Yesterday was A. A. Milne’s birthday. I saw this posted on Facebook. I love Winnie the Pooh and there was a quote from one of the books. When I clicked on the post that was from Book Bub Blog, I noticed another link to a site that I have ignored for a while called Good Reads. So, they have a 2015 Challenge on there and I decided to take the challenge to read 25 books this year. I don’t know that I can do that many and yet, I don’t know that I can’t read more than that. We don’t have television, per se, so it isn’t like I am watching a ton of crap that is offered there so why not take the challenge.

Currently, I am reading lots of Buddhist type books and self help in order to get my head straight after my son’s death. For now, those are soothing and are inspirational. They are helping me to realize that I have things to work through. So, I need to update the site with those and add the books that I have read that I haven’t put on the site for a couple of years. I use a Kindle app on my phone and on my tablet and recently added it to my laptop but friends have been giving me real books to read and I still love to turn the real pages too.

I recently was gifted the book “Being Mortal”, by Atul Gawande. It is a great book about senior and medical care in our country and how there are some wonderful things that are being tested in nursing home facilities to allow seniors to feel like they are alive and not being treated like prisoners. There is still a long way to go to change the mindset to allow more of this to happen but in an age where we are keeping people alive, many times at ridiculous measures, it is nice to read that someone is trying new ideas and trying to treat these people with respect they have earned.

Another book that I just received is called Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I have only read a few pages but it looks like it is going to be a comforting book from a woman’s perspective on dealing with suffering and making suffering manageable.

And I was loaned Paul Newman’s book called “In Pursuit of the Common Good” about how he and his partner started their salad dressing business with all natural ingredients and the funny ways that they went about putting their product out onto the grocery shelves. They were trying to take the local approach and kept running into the large corporations who stifled their creativity.

It has only been in the past 10 years or so that I have really started reading in earnest. I tried to go back and read thing the classics because I wasn’t really interested in reading them when I was “supposed” to be reading them. Books like stories by Mark Twain, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island and A People’s History of the United States. I found that I really loved reading the biographies of our founding fathers. And I remember thinking to myself, as I was reading Mark Twain, “this is really good” and being embarrassed to say that out loud. Reading wasn’t really emphasized in my house growing up and it was in my husband’s. He is now a librarian so I have a good resource to go to for ideas of what to read. Both our boys were and are voracious readers.

So, I will go and update my list and see what the 25 books may be for 2015. I think, currently, I have about 6 different books in process at the same time. I may have to reread Winnie the Pooh just for grounding though.

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.

“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”

A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh.

Such wish words from a bear.

Day 300 of Acceptance


Today, December 31, 2014, it has been 300 days since John died.

baby johnI know this has been hard for everyone involved on all different levels but I feel I can truly say I knew him first. 31 years ago I felt his body moving in my body. It was an easy pregnancy. He was an easy going baby. I nourished his body with my own for those nine months and then nursed him for another 6. I have had numerous mothers, both counselors and my GP all tell me that it is always harder for the mom to lose a child.  I believe that Hallmark could sell a lot more cards if, instead of celebrating all mothers in the spring on Mother’s Day, we were to acknowledge mothers on our birthdays. I know this year, on January 17th, his 31st birthday, I am going to be thinking of my part in bringing a wonderful person into the world who will never know the change he has created, both before and after,  the lives  he touched and the personal hurt I feel, as his mom.

My meditation leader gave me the advice to give metta to all  mothers who have lost sons to kayaking accidents as a way of holding them in my heart and sending them loving kindness during my meditation. I don’t believe that they would be able to feel my message and I think part of the practice is to help me to realize that I am not alone on this journey.  I can think of them and their suffering . I often wonder  how they are dealing with their  loss. Are they angry? Do they wish they could talk to their son? Do they wish their son would have seen the danger they put themselves  into?  I wonder if they have the same frustration that I have of wanting to talk to my son, to find my missing son. If they have had a day where you get the same feeling you had when that child would play hide and seek in public and the panic you feel, only to find them and be angry and happy at the same time. Only now, that panic never resolves itself. If they are angry at their son for being arrogant and not recognizing how powerful water can be, thinking they are capable of coming out alive. If they are angry at all those other young men who are still putting their own lives in danger not thinking about the pain and suffering their deaths will create. I think of the mother in WVA who’s son, Chris Schwer died in 2012 and how she is just now reaching her 1000 days. How many more mothers have to do this? We got two more years than she did. Do I want a relationship with her or those other mothers?…

Not one single book that I have read for grieving parents says it gets better. I don’t see how it ever will. I think it will get easier but never better. How can it? I feel my life is now a sandwich that is just bread. And it is that awful white bread that has no taste. There is the first slice of bread that represents everything before John and a slice of bread that represents this new chunk of life without John. The middle 30 years of my life has been removed. Not all of it, but a huge part of it.  Now, I have to find the “meat” to life or the PB&J, as it were. Something to fill the emptiness.

I am learning through reading about mindfulness and meditation that I need to find a way to “awaken” and allow things to be as they are right now. To be grateful. To learn to not judge and to let go. I don’t feel I am getting very far.I am still judging, I am still very upset, I am still frustrated. I have a lot of trouble “letting go.”  I am reading a book by Tara Brach called True RefugeThe book has given me meditations to try to work through my tough days and is something that I am trying to do daily to retrain my brain’s neurons.

Tara says there are  three gateways to finding refuge:

Refuge in the Buddha (an “awakened one” or our own pure awareness)

Refuge in the dharma (the truth of the present moment; the teachings; the way)

Refuge in the sangha (the community of spiritual friends or love)

Together with Rick Hanson’s book, Buddha’s Brain  and information about our brains and how they work, I am hoping that I can train my brain to deal with all the parts of the process and will hopefully come out the other side a different person.  A better person. One that can live with the constant ache in my heart but realizes that I have to continue. I have no other choice. This is my best plan to cope given that I don’t believe there is any higher power that can help me through this or can make it all make sense. The phrase that is a constant both with Rick and with Tara is that “neurons that fire together wire together” and I am hoping that I can awaken the bad neurons and replace them with better ones that know how to move forward. Giving myself positive affirmations to heal historic wounds that have come along for the ride.

Sometimes grieving my son feels like looking at a webpage. The main body of the page is the grief that Herb and I share. There are many embedded links in that body of grief. Many issues from our collective pasts that influence our sharing of our loss. That part of the page is full in and of itself.  Then it gets even more complicated with the sidebars on the page. Under each of those links are the other persons whose lives have been touched by John. Those links are hard to click on sometimes because, just like a webpage, they take you into places that you didn’t even know existed. Places that don’t add any value to the healing or the “getting easier” part. And just like on the web, places that aren’t even related to the subject but are just distractions.IMG_20141231_101104491

I had a customer stop in who shared that her brother had died in his 20s. Her mother had a hard time the rest of her life. The customer commented that as 20 somethings, they couldn’t understand why their mom still grieved for their brother. They would say to each other, ” she should be past this by now”. But, as they got older and they watched their own kids grow up, only then did they understand their mother’s grief. They couldn’t imagine watching their own child grow into adulthood, be at the start of adult life and then losing that child.

Tomorrow starts 2015. Tomorrow, when I move a pebble, I will be able to look at the calendar and use the day number as my number of pebbles, at least for 31 days on the way to 700 more days to acceptance. Yesterday, I counted the pebbles in my jar. I counted them twice. As with other times of counting, I got to add extra pebbles to the jar. Bonus pebbles. There are 2 pebbles that an acquaintance sent me to add to my jar, (one of John’s college room mate’s mom)  some driftwood and beach pebbles from Whidbey Island when we went to the west coast last summer, and a large pebble that I picked up the day we walked by the Rouge river with John after driving across the country with him. The large Gratitude stone in the photo was given to me by a good friend so that I remember each day to be grateful. Thank you everyone for helping us get through these 300 days. 700 more to go…I am grateful for my friends. I am grateful for small things. I am grateful that I had John and that we got to enjoy him for 30 years. I just wish it had been more.




Build Your Own Fairy Garden Class

Fairy Garden collage

Fairy Garden Items

Shenandoah County Parks and Rec has asked me to teach a Build Your Own Fairy Garden Class. I thought this would be a fun way to introduce, not only fairy gardens but, working in clay. Hand building clay items is relaxing and fun and a great way to experience the ceramics process.

The class is listed in the Fall Program Guide that came in the mail about a week ago. Registration for classes started on August 18th and the deadline to sign up for my class is the 23rd of September. You can download the form here…

The listing in the catalog reads as follows:

Build Your Own Fairy Garden

Fairy gardens are a fun way to add whimsy to your outside garden, porch or patio. They can also add interest to an indoor potted plant. In this class, you will build all the accessories to make your own fairy garden out of stoneware clay while leaning about hand-building with clay and the processes that it takes to make miniature items. You can assemble a fairy garden when the accessories are finished and this class will  help you do that too. There will be three total classes. During the last class, you have the option to take your accessories home to assemble your fairy garden or bring your plants along to class for assistance in assembling! PLEASE NOTE: Registration deadline is September 23 For ages 13 and over.

Saturday, September 27th, 9:00 am-12:00 pm

Saturday, October 4th, 9:00 am-12:00 pm

Saturday, October 11th, 9:00 am-12:00 pm

The class will be held in Community Room #1 of the Historic Courthouse in Woodstock, VA and the fee for the class is $59.00 per person. The fairy garden kit, in my Etsy shop sells for $120 so this is a great opportunity. Don’t miss it!

IMG_0771It is coming together. This is the quilt that I am making from the fabric, that my daughter-in-law, Belle, used in the buntings she made for the picnic when she and Thomas got married in 2011. You can read about the quilt idea here…

I have two more of these 4 squares to assemble and add a note from Thomas to Belle and a note from Belle to Thomas. I also have a square with their wedding date on it and a message from Herb and myself.

Hopefully, this will be waiting on them, on the guest bed, when they come home for Thanksgiving.




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Quilt Fever…

The Poems on My Window

Poem window

the window above my clay wedging table

A Meeting

In a dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: “How you been?”
He grins and looks at me.
“I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees.

Wendell Berry

This poem was sent to me by a college friend…April Leidig

In my studio, I have a window that I have collected some items to remember John by. After a while, I will probably take some of them down and move them. I don’t want it to begin to become a shrine. The voodoo doll, he bought the summer he worked at Zion National Park and went to California to see a cousin, who took him to Mexico. The photo of him is when we took him to Oregon, a year ago this week. There is a rock on the shelf that I dated 8-22-2013 Walking with John, Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Tomorrow is the 22nd of August and that rock will go into my jar to add to the 1000 pebbles that I am marking the 1000 days to Acceptance. Today is day 165. The poems that I have taped onto the window have given me words to read to help me through my days. They are positive thoughts. They may go away after a while and I find other positive thoughts to take their place. Some days, I don’t look at them, while other days, I read them all. Today, I thought I would share them with you and to also share some insights from a book that I have been reading. Trying to understand the differences in how I, and others are dealing with our new normal.

Right after John’s death, we received a little over a hundred cards and letters of condolences. Many of them had cliche’ messages, many people didn’t know what to write so they let the card be the message and simply signed their names. Some of the cards were very pointed and told stories that really helped us to feel supported and loved.  One letter we received complimented us on our parenting and that, while they didn’t know John, except to watch him play baseball in high school, they did know us and that if we were any indication, John must have been an incredible young man. Many remembered time spent with John.

1000 pebbles to acceptance

1000 pebbles to acceptance

I have also been reading a book by an Episcopal Bishop, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” by John Shelby Spong. As an atheist, I get really frustrated with comments surrounding my son’s death and am trying to find words that will be inspirational to me but will help me to be a critical thinker. This book, written in 1998, discusses all the frustrations that I have had with religion and the superficial aspects of it in terms of today’s society. After, the death of my son, I have struggled with how religion is playing a part in how others are dealing with their grief.  I am trying not to be judgmental about someone else’s grief. Each person has a right to their own belief systems but religion and god have nothing to do with how I am dealing with my grief.

Critical thinking is the basis of this book and Bishop Spong’s advice is to try to find new answers to many of the practices that are out of date from biblical times. He takes the scriptures apart and points out the histories behind them and how the world was very different than what it is today. One of the reviews on the back of the book says that …”he sounds a rousing call for a Christianity based on critical thought rather than blind faith, on love rather than judgement, and that focuses on life more than religion.” I want answers. I don’t want to just think that my son is floating about. With space travel, we now know that the earth is not flat, as what was thought, when the bible was written. Women certainly play a completely different role now than they did in biblical times. Embryology was not even known until the 1700s how a woman’s egg gets fertilized and that during biblical times, she was just property. Men had more than one wife, they had slaves, they were supposedly told by God to go in and kill people. These are just a few of the topics that Bishop Spong addresses.

Prayer is something that he says we need to take a hard look at. How can some prayers be answered while others seem to go unnoticed? Again, critical thinking is something that we need more of. We now have weather radar that can tell us that storms are not part of God sending us signs. We know that space is growing larger and larger with more and more new discoveries. We know that we evolved from a fish. Much of the world was not even know to exist when much of the bible was written. I would highly recommend this book to all christians. I need to point out that Bishop Spong is a believer but calls himself a believer in exile. As an atheist, I respect the christian views to love one another, have respect for all and to care for others who are less fortunate than ourselves, but I think, like Bishop Spong, we need to revisit many of the stories in the bible and add history and realistic science to the stories, putting them into a new perspective to see if they really are words that we want to live by and to understand just how insignificant we really are in the universe. I think that inspiration can come from the beauty in the world around us and from the words that we send and share with each other. I can’t get that inspiration from the Bible and I don’t believe in a supernatural being.  So, below is some of the simple inspirations that I am looking to each day to guide me through my day and to help me resolve my grief.

The 125 cards that we received were all very moving in each of their own ways. The sheer numbers of cards gave us the knowledge that we are loved and are being thought of at this difficult time. In addition to the cards, friends have made us aware that they are there for us, whenever we need them. Some people sent money, not knowing what else to do. That money has been used to put a memorial garden in our yard so we can remember the thoughtfulness of those kind offerings. Being private people, we have accepted some of these invitations and not others. That isn’t to say we don’t appreciate the offers, we just need to deal with small bits of our sadness, sometimes alone.

There is a scholarship fund that is being set up in John’s name through the Shenandoah Community Foundation and when it is complete, I will post about the details so that some other adventurous individual may have the opportunity to experience life fully the way that our son did.

Thank you to each and everyone that has reached out to us.


Inside a card from Walter Elliott: Walter was a friend of a friend who went kayaking several years in the early summer with John, Herb and several other guys. I never met him but I feel this really says that he knew John very well.


I share in the sadness from John’s death. He seemed to enjoy so much. The simple things that others discard or take for granted. Watching him eat leftover food or recycle it into a delicious snack was a pleasure. He made the task of building and tending a campfire into an expression of art. May your grief be lessened by the gifts he gave us in life.

Thinking of you,

Walter Elliott

A poem that my friend Claudia sent me: Claudia sent me this as a way to start my day.

We rise today with,

The light of sun

The radiants of moon

The splendor of fire

The speed of lightning

The swiftness of wind

The depth of ocean 

The stability of earth and the firmness of rock.

Several folks sent this poem but my friend Abbe Kennedy printed it onto a separate sheet of paper:

I don’t think John is in these things but the poem is lovely and the change that I would make to it is that I think John is now stardust rather than the starlight at night. With his ashes being scattered all over the country, I think that stardust is more fitting to his situation.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glint on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush, 

I am the swift, uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep. 

I am not there, I do not sleep. 

Do not stand at my grave and cry.

I am not there, I did not die!

My friend Mona, sent me a card with a wonderful Thomas Merton quote written inside:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves,

and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise, we love only the reflection of ourselves

we find in them.     Thomas Merton

Mona also wrote…. what a great thing that John was his own man!

A poem that I found for myself and sent a copy of it to Erin:

After a While

After a while you learn

The subtle difference between

Holding a hand and chaining a soul

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning

And company doesn’t always mean security.

And you begin to learn

That kisses aren’t contracts

And presents aren’t promises

And you begin to accept your defeats

With you head up and your eyes ahead

With the grace of a woman

Not the grief of a child.

And you learn

To build all your roads on today

Because tomorrow’s ground is

Too uncertain for plans

And futures have a way

Of falling down in mid flight

After a while you learn

That even sunshine burns if you get too much

So you plant your own garden

And decorate your own soul

Instead of waiting

For someone to bring you flowers

And you learn

That you really can endure

That you are really strong

And you really do have worth

And you learn and you learn

With every good-bye, you learn.

Veronica A. Shoffstall

My Valentine poem from Herb, my wonderful husband:

Valentine for Susie

They’ve got it wrong

It’s not an arrow through the heart,

a fire blazing bright

or even a red, red rose.

Once I thought it was a butterfly’s flight

a chance blessing shared,

Later a puzzle worked and fit seemed right.

But, now I think I know. 

Our love is a quilt, pieced and stitched 

by our life together.

Defying pattern, colors without caution, 

sewn together with thread from our souls.

And finally, something that I have had on my wall for a while that I find inspirational and try to follow it…. I don’t always do this, but can only strive to do these things.


The Four Agreements

Be Impeccable with your Word

  • Speak with integrity
  • Say only what you mean
  • Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others
  • Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love

Don’t Take Anything Personally

  • Nothing others do is because of you
  • What others say and do ias a projection of their own reality, their own dream
  • When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering

Don’t Make Assumptions

  • Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want
  • Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
  • With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best

  • Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick
  • Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.





New Kiln Equals Business Growth


programmable L&L kiln

During the holiday season last year, I felt that I couldn’t get all the work fired that I needed to fire. I think part of that is knowing how and when the clay is ready to process and not to push it too fast. But, I also didn’t feel that I had the kiln space to push the work through. So, I have ordered a new kiln from The Kiln Doctor and hopefully, in 2-4 weeks, I will be up and running and working harder to fill it up.

The kiln that I currently have is over 35 years old. It has, and continues to serve me well but I feel that I need to upgrade to a programmable kiln and to give myself a bigger goal to work toward. The old kiln will still be used for smaller firings or to do the bisque work. It will continue to be in the basement. I inherited this kiln from my mother-in-law, many years ago, after she tried her hand at ceramics as a hobby.

Originally, the plan was to add a small building to the upper side of my studio to house the kilns. Due to money constraints, I am needing to add the kiln before I add the building. When we renovated the studio, we had the electrician run the wiring for the future kiln and those wires are available on the upper side of the studio, in the wall. Hopefully, he can extract those wires from the building and extend them out to the building that we call the “garage”. The garage has a concrete floor and a good size space to accommodate the larger kiln and then the next upgrade can be a new building so that I am not having to carry work between buildings for the different phases of the process. I can also put the glaze compressor in the garage and get it out of the garden pump room where it currently is. For now, the kayaks and the mower will have to find a new home until we can afford a kiln room addition onto the studio.

The new kiln is now going to be three times the kiln that I currently have and so I hope that, with my skills improving, and my desire to make larger items, that I won’t have any trouble filling this larger space. Growth is good and this is part of the process of growing the business.