Sunday, September 21, 2014

#BTFBenefit2014 and the Number 10

Reba, Gregg, Lynora, Daniel, me, Jim & Caroline
Something absolutely wonderful happened on Friday evening. We gathered with friends and family among 1,700 people to celebrate the tremendous achievements of the Ben Towne Foundation's first five years in existence.
Reba and Bill
Two members of the TEAM BTF Ride Across America Team
In the space of 10 minutes, over $1,600,000 was raised to support childhood cancer research at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, with the help of Joel McHale, who hosted and kept us all laughing.
Reba, Joel and me
As always, Carin and Jeff Towne and Dr. Michael Jensen spoke movingly, beautifully and with passion about their mission. A brief video shared the story of one of the most recent recipients of Dr. Jensen's T-cell therapy.

In addition to the wonderful sum raised that night, we celebrated these milestones:
- two clinical trials were launched for T-cell treatment of leukemia
- a third clinical trial is nearly ready for submission, for the treatment of neuroblastoma
- 10 PATIENTS ARE IN REMISSION! Stop right there. 
 Ten patients who had experienced relapse, who had no other treatment options - whose hope for a cure was completely exhausted, and were facing death - those ten children are now in remission.

Ten families are not heartbroken today - parents, siblings, extended family and community - have their precious, beloved child with them. Ten families did not have to sign "do not resuscitate" forms, did not have to request hospice care, did not have to plan a memorial service, pick a headstone, face an empty bedroom.

Ten.

I was so happy Friday night that I could not go to sleep.

In no way does this great accomplishment reduce the pain of missing Katie, or change the fact of her absence in our home, our lives and and in our future. And yet...
And yet, for me, this is a kind of justice for her killer. This is arresting the culprit. This is going to prevent this tragedy from being repeated, over and over again.

Not only that, but T-Cell treatment does not endanger the future life of the patient, because it does not cause organ damage, reproductive damage, hearing loss or secondary cancers, the way that traditional chemotherapy and radiation do. This treatment uses the body's own immune system to heal itself, and the possibilities for its use are endless.

With research, it can be applied to different kinds of cancer, and to adults, as well as to children. All we need to do is continue to find funding for the work to continue and expand.

Tonight, some parent who thought their child was going to die, is instead going to tuck her into bed, and kiss and hug her "good night." It won't be me and my daughter, yet I am happy for that family - for all ten of those families who have received this gift from Dr. Michael Jensen and his research team at the Ben Towne Center. We will continue to support this work through the Katie Gerstenberger Endowment for Cancer Research, and through the Ben Towne Foundation, and in any other way we can.
My friend Lynora and her son Daniel came all the way from Alaska to join us!
Lynora, Reba and me - as Reba says, "Mothers in Arms"
I am asking you to help us spread the word about this, and - if you are able - to join us in supporting it. 

100% of every penny and dollar which you donate to the Ben Towne Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research goes to research. There is not one cent of overhead cost deducted from your donation; every bit goes to funding research. Please share this happy news with your community, and join us! As Ben used to say, "Come on, everybody!"

*if you are an Instagram user, you can see more photos of the event at #BTFBenefit2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

"You Never Know How Much Good You Do"

I am a regular reader of Stephanie Nielsen's NieNie Dialogues. Today, I read one of her posts which contained a message that moved me to tears. It takes about 8 minutes to watch; I encourage you to make time to do so, because it will remind you of the value in even the smallest (perhaps invisible) moments of our daily lives.

I am deeply, tearfully thankful that, in spite of all of the difficulties we face (as Americans, and as citizens of the world), we are free in this land to worship as we are led by conscience. I wish this freedom for all who long for it, and especially for those who are persecuted for it.

I am thankful that, though I am not a member of the Mormon church or the Catholic church or a Jewish synogogue or a Muslim mosque, I am free to read, listen and learn from the best of any or all traditions, as I am led, and to be blessed by the goodness in all children of our Heavenly Father/Mother.

Whatever name is natural to us by which to call on Him/Her, if we dare to realize that the River of Love is flowing through all creation, we may see that it flows for everyone, and we can step into it and be blessed together.
I guess you could say that my "religion" is love; Love is what I worship and strive to practice in daily living. That is not to say that I succeed in every way, or every day - far from it. But I am a sister of all who worship God, who is Love.

You may never know whose life you touch today with your smallest, simplest act of kindness. I hope this little video message, eight minutes long, encourages you in love. Thank you, NieNie, for encouraging me!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blogging (and All Writing) is Good for You

Did you see this article? My friend (the multi-talented photographer, writer, painter and actress) Diane Walker shared it with me. It's true, for me and many others I know, who have written and blogged their way through some of the darkest times of their lives.

Writing is also a wonderful way to express joy and gratitude, and that is therapeutic as well. What is your form of self-expression? Is it painting, theater, gardening, singing, dance, running, drawing, sports? What do you do when you're at the boiling point? What do you do when you're overflowing with joy?

The important thing - in my opinion - is not to keep grief or anger bottled up, under pressure, but to find a constructive expression - a way to let it out that does no harm to you or others. There are times when expressing the deepest, darkest, most powerful feelings can bring healing to me and to others. Very simply put: when I share my feelings, others know that they are not alone. When you tell me that something I write resonates with you, I know that I am not alone.
I found this gem at a 2nd hand store - the Children's Hospital Bargain Boutique on Bainbridge Island - when we were out taking a walk before a dinner date. It is the original 1961 English translation of the French classic (which was written in the 1930s). It is considered the definitive encyclopedia of gastronomic science and history. So exciting!
In recent days, I have been spending my writing energy on the "Morning Pages" for the Artist's Way. My back is slowly recovering strength. I have had two root canal procedures which have kept me from feeling tip-top, but have forced me to rest, allowing my back to heal further. In the near future, there is the Ben Towne Foundation Benefit, and then a two-day minor surgery to remove a "beauty mark" (I prefer to think of it as a "beauty mark" rather than a "mole") and a skin graft to repair the area. After that, I will be keeping quiet for a few more weeks, and looking forward to a more active life after recovering. Meanwhile, the view from here is always changing...
This ship belongs to the cruise line for which David is working. It sails in and out of our town's harbor about once a week in the warm months.
Bird prints on our beach
Summer moonrise
Dramatic moonrise
Double rainbow in the midst of a summer shower
Wishing you a happy weekend!

Friday, September 12, 2014

New Price for Kindle Edition

I just lowered the price of the Kindle version of "Because of Katie," and enrolled it in the Kindle Matchbook program. If you buy a print copy, you will have the opportunity to buy the Kindle version for just $2.99. At some point, I may write an updated version of it, but for now, I want to lower the Kindle price.

I would love it if everyone would shop at their locally-owned, independent bookstore! But if you don't have one, or they won't order the print version of the book for you, here are two options:
click on Liberty Bay Books and they will help you, or
you can click HERE and get the Kindle Edition for just $2.99 when you buy the new print edition of this book. Learn more about

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Employment, etc.

This is Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, WA, NOT New England - but it sure resembles the photos that David is sending!
David is working as a deckhand for American Cruise Lines, along the New England coast. This company operates small cruise ships in United States' waters, including rivers and coastal areas. He is learning and putting in a lot of hours, on the decks, at the helm (under the captain's and mate's supervision), driving the launch and standing gangway watch. I can't think of many jobs better suited to a young man just out of college (who has worked four summers on a local cruise line) than this one. We are happy and proud of him for taking on this adventurous job, as he continues to look for a permanent one in his field of study (criminal justice, with a minor in business).

Another reason that we are happy for David is the fact that his senior thesis has been published in the Journal of Law and Criminal Justice. It was interesting to me that his class was structured so that each thesis was written cooperatively (they worked in pairs). David and his writing partner functioned well as a team, and their professor thought so highly of the completed work that she suggested they submit it for publication. With a few suggested edits/additions from her, they did; it was accepted - and we just received the happy news. I hope that this will help a potential employer to see beyond the online resume and forms which are standard in the job market today.

It seems so difficult to communicate who you are, using electronic application forms! Back in the day, I enjoyed creating a resume and cover letter - selecting fonts and formatting, deciding which paper to use - and enjoyed the interview process, too. But nowadays, how do human resources decision-makers differentiate one from all of the others, when so much is done electronically? My heart goes out to young graduates - to all job-seekers - in this electronic age!

We've had a gorgeous, sunny summer, during which I've continued to study the Artist's Way. Every morning, I get up and write - longhand, per the instructions - and do the exercises, sitting outdoors, whenever possible.
I'm not the only one who likes to sit on the deck, but at least I don't sit on the picnic table - Liger does.
In addition to being filled with wisdom and challenging ideas, the book and its exercises are bringing up a lot of information from within me, including unrealized truths and dreams that I have not dared to voice. I would recommend the Artist's Way to anyone who is willing to devote time and honest attention to it, even if each chapter takes longer than just a week. Due to our vacation, taking care of my back and now a root canal procedure, I am going at my own pace, but the timing doesn't matter. The book is blessing me, and it is worth taking the time to do the work thoroughly rather than at an arbitrary pace. Thanks for reminding about it, Shelby!
I learned this week that Field's End Writers' Community would like me to offer WORD SOUP© again in 2015. I am thrilled, and already looking forward to it.

Speaking of Field's End, if you live in this area, please visit the website and consider attending one of the classes or events that are being offered! For example: an evening with bestselling author and editor Ann Hood as she presents "Knitting the Arts Together,”  leading a troupe of actors in reading excerpts from Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting. The event will take place on Saturday, October 18th from 7:00 to 9:00 PM, at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art Auditorium, at 550 Winslow Way East (the corner of 305 & Winslow—walk up from the ferry).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Happy Place

We took a vacation. It was grand.

I'm taking longer than usual to get back to our "normal" life, because I have a pinched nerve in my neck. (If you know me well, or even know me on facebook, you'll be aware that I do NOT write about aches, pains, viruses or day-to-day illness, out of respect for others, particularly those who suffer from really serious conditions.)

This has been going on for several weeks, since before we left for Canada, and has prevented me from writing or reading for any length of time. That's why I've been absent from here, and from reading your blogs. All these weeks, I have been itching to read and write, so here I am, with my laptop perched on two large cushions so as not to irritate my neck.

It is good to be away from home on the anniversary of Katie's passing. As the day approaches, I worry that if I am in our house, I will walk by the door of her room, go in, and re-live her death, moment by moment. I realize that I don't have do that, but feel helpless to stop myself. It takes an annual effort to resist re-living the entire month preceding her passing. So I planned our vacation to take us away over the day it happened, and it went well.

The best way to tell you about it is in photographs...they really are worth a thousand words.
That's Gregg and David in the distance. We walked for hours and had a picnic lunch on this beach - my favorite place to hike
My friend Teri calls this a "God-circle" - shining on Incinerator Rock. I saw more than one of these on this trip
Surfers love this cove
David finally talked us into doing something we have been resisting (for reasons of economy) for several years: taking a seaplane trip to Hot Springs Cove. It was a blast.

My father used to fly a single-engine retractable (landing gear) plane called a Mooney 201, so I love small planes, but have never been in a seaplane before. Gregg has, but David and I had not. This trip included a hike out through old-growth forest on a beautifully-maintained boardwalk to three, natural hot spring pools. Gregg and David carried our lunch, water, towels and a change of clothes.

If you thought you saw this in the slideshow,
you did. 
We were stunned to come across it on our hike out to the cove. 
It felt like a love-message from our girl.
We saw thousands of these (known as "sail jellyfish," though they are not jellyfish), which rarely come ashore,
and we saw Spiderman's underpants, on the sidewalk in Victoria. If you see him, beware - he's going commando!
We stopped at a tiny winery to buy a couple of bottles of their excellent wines which are unavailable in the U.S. This is the Venturi-Schultze Brandenburg #3 dessert wine, and I highly recommend it - particularly if you accompany it with a serving of sticky date-toffee pudding.
We took beautiful walks through the countryside and city.
Community garden in James Bay neighborhood
We ate fabulous food and met interesting, fun, kindhearted people. We spent time together as a family, just the three of us. It was pure joy.
Spoiler alert: this might be our Christmas card.
Whenever we visit, I feel as if I want to move to Vancouver Island - for good. It is my "happy place," so while we're always glad to be home, we had a heavenly vacation. And I felt Katie's presence in so many lovely ways that it was easy not to grieve for her - even on the 16th.

Thanks to all of you who sent messages, thoughts and love during this time. I deeply appreciate it, and want you to know that we are well...and happy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Karen Gerstenberger: Where to Begin? Here and Now.

I'm over at my Karen Gerstenberger blog today - please come for a visit!  Karen Gerstenberger: Where to Begin? Here and Now.: Life is taking a new shape. I have recently neglected my blogs, but the practice of writing needs to be just that: practiced. Fortunately, t...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Letting Go in Order to Comfort Others

Today, I went through our house and selected items to donate for the hundreds of people whose homes have been destroyed by wildfires in central Washington. I put toys, books and clothes into bags - four bags full. 
I'm also donating these items, which belonged to Katie.
 Breathe.

These are some of my favorites of Katie's clothes. I washed them before packing them. It was odd to wash her clothes again, especially items that I have laundered so many times for her. It felt odd because I wasn't doing it so that Katie could wear them. 

It was just odd.

I can't think of a better reason to part with these clothes than to give them to families who have lost every single thing they own...but it still takes my breath away.

I hope our clothes, books, toys and (especially) Katie's clothes will be a blessing to the families in need. They will probably never know what these items mean to me, but that is not important. This gift is to help comfort them in their loss, as so many people offered comfort to us in ours.

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Hope for a Sea Change" by Elizabeth Aquino

My friend, the very talented writer Elizabeth Aquino of the blog "A Moon, Worn as if it Had Been a Shell," has written a gorgeous new memoir called  
"Hope for a Sea Change."
 
 It's available in eBook form for only $2.99 from
Amazon.com and
SheBooks.
I hope you will follow one of these links and order a copy. You can read it in one sitting, and I'll bet you will, because you won't want to put it down. Elizabeth's writing is gorgeous, and her story will give you a glimpse into what life is like for an intelligent, energetic, witty, loving, creative, dedicated woman when she is faced with the sudden onset of a mysterious illness in her precious first child.

Elizabeth's writing is insightful, honest, clear, and yet filled with feeling. Her descriptions of life with a critical illness in the family - of adjusting, coping, and seeking help from "the best of the best" - are gripping, intense and luminous. I could feel her hope, discouragement, wonder, exhaustion and dark humor as she tells Sophie's story. The only downside of this memoir is that I wish it was longer.

One of the bonds which we share is the birth date of our only daughters. Sophie and Katie were born on the same day, in the same year. Though I have never met Sophie, I was fortunate to be able to meet Elizabeth in Victoria, B.C. last year when she was on a respite break, provided to her by Caregifted. Elizabeth's voice and sensibility is a gift in my life, and I know that it will be in yours, once you dip into her beautiful prose.
That's Elizabeth on the right, across from Kim of the "Art in Red Wagons" blog
Elizabeth's writing and friendship have been lights on my path since I met her in the blogisphere. I recommend you visit her blog, as well as download her memoir. If you are anything like me, they will leave you you wanting to read more. I can't wait until she finishes and publishes the long version - but please, don't wait! Order your copy today. It costs less than a latte, and its impact will be far more lasting and beneficial to you than a rush of caffeine.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

This week's bouquet from Persephone Farm
Remembering - with gratitude - that it is a privilege to live in a free country, and that this freedom did not come as a gift, but was bought for us at a great price. That price was sacrifice on the part of others - those who were willing to live for freedom, and to die for it. They are the ones who bought it, and gave it to us, and left their gift as a shining light to all. I thank them, and hope that my life, in the light of their sacrifice, may do justice to their gift.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Double Nickels

I turned 55 last week. To me, that's the "speed limit" birthday, but others have suggested that it also stands for "double nickels" - as you can see in the card I received from David:
On the morning of my birthday, Maribeth came over for a walk on "her" beach, and lunch in one of our favorite haunts...
...and then back to our house for a little "chill time" on the deck, and a quick visit with David and Gregg. Maribeth was the perfect "birthday presence," and I'm so grateful that she was able to spend it with me!
Late in the afternoon, our friend Linda arrived from Vienna. She was on her way to visit her family in California, and stayed with us for five days of fun.
Here we are at Burrata Bistro during my incredibly delicious (and oh-so-filling) birthday dinner...
 
...and this is the dessert tray which Burrata Bistro provided: blueberry tart, mocha creme caramel and tiramisu - with complementary glasses of port for everyone at the table!
Thank you, Kim and Alfonso!

Linda travels all over the world singing (her specialty is the operas of Richard Wagner). She was nominated for a Grammy award this year, and we enjoyed hearing all about her experiences at the ceremonies, parties and events surrounding the award show. Though she didn't win this time, it is quite an honor to be nominated at all - not to mention the privilege of attending the live concert, meeting and mingling with other artists.

We have a good time reminiscing about things we've done in the past, such as the time we went to the last concert given by the Commodores, before Lionel Richie went out on his own. We heard them perform in a small nightclub outside of Boston, with seats very close to the stage, and we were perhaps the only people not of African heritage in the club. And then there was the time I went to the church where Linda was a soloist, donning a choir robe, and standing next to her on the altar. I lip-synched along with hymns I didn't know, trying to be invisible. Not easy, standing next to the soloist, who happens to be about a foot taller than I.

On this visit, we went shopping for clothes and gifts, to the Pike Place Market in Seattle and to Port Townsend. We had our morning coffee together in the sun on the deck, barbecued dinners at home, and just relaxed. Linda had just come from an engagement in Seville, so it was good to be able to offer her a peaceful retreat by the sea.
You can tell that she and Gregg get along well...
 ...and share a sense of humor. 
She has known our kids since 2003, so she and David get on famously, as well.
My parents also love her, and took all of us to their club for dinner, after cocktail hour in their home.

On Monday, we went with my parents to Seattle to have a traditional (delicious) German dinner with a lovely couple whom Linda met when she sang in the Seattle Opera's production of Parsifal in 2003. Heidi and Hans are from Germany, adore Wagner's music and Linda's interpretation of it, and have become dear friends of hers - even traveling to Europe to hear her sing.
Here are Heidi and Hans with Linda on our deck in 2012 (my photos of the dinner at their house did not turn out well). We had a wonderful evening, and are so thankful to have met them through Linda. Music has the power to unite hearts across history, cultures, time zones and many miles.

All in all, a very happy birthday week, for which I'm grateful!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Persephone Farm CSA

Since we are not great gardeners, yet we love to eat healthy food, Gregg and I decided to try something new this year: we are joining Persephone Farm's CSA (community supported agriculture) program. The best description of the CSA is in their own words (from the Persephone Farm website):
"From the first week of June through the end of October, subscribers receive an armload of fresh-picked seasonal vegetables, herbs and flowers from our farm. In addition, subscribers can choose to receive eggs from our happy hens as well as fruit, fresh–baked bread, cheese, wine, salmon and berries from other local producers. We aim to foster a deeper connection with all the foods we offer, through recipe sharing, seasonal celebrations and lots of neighborly conversation at our weekly pick-ups."
Persephone is a farm on 13 acres in the nearby town of Indianola. Of that, two acres are under cultivation, and they have an orchard, berries, free-ranging poultry and beautiful open fields, punctuated by grand maples and surrounded by tall trees.
We visited tonight for the opening of the CSA program, and an orientation for first-time members. This included a tour of the gardens, a light buffet of delicious hors d'oeuvres, artisanal cheeses, bread, local wine, beer and talks from the owner, an intern, a local beekeeper and the provider of cheese and bread.
It felt like the best kind of school - hands-on, outdoors, in the sunshine, right in the midst of what they were teaching us. I felt happy and blessed, listening to joyful, passionate people discussing their love of nature, good food sources, healthy agricultural practices and their daily work.
We bought a half-share of produce, and a weekly share of artisanal cheese, which is going to be plenty for the three of us. The cheese-maker (and bread-maker) is locally renowned chef and cookbook author Judith Weinstock, so you know it is going to be good. Every other week, we will also receive a bouquet of fresh flowers! Persephone grows flowers to encourage the bee population to pollinate their plants. Tonight, they gave us the gift of two tomato plants and a basil plant. The tomatoes are going into my parents' garden this weekend, because Gregg and I do not have "green thumbs."
Persephone's website states that biodiversity is the key to their success. They use crop rotation and homemade compost, avoiding pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The farm is not "certified organic," but their standards are higher than national "organic" standards. We are going to benefit from their practices by picking up our produce right from the farm each week. It will be fresh, local, varied and grown with love and care.
We are blessed to have Persephone Farm so close to our home. It is a leader in the field (pun intended), and has a respected internship program, with as many as 100 applicants for its four annual positions. Martha Stewart has even visited the farm; you can read about that event here.

There are still a few openings left in this year's CSA program, so if you are interested (and live in Kitsap County), follow this link to find out how to join!