Active Hope

When we usually think of hope we think of it as something passive, like wishing. I was searching for a different vision of hope and when I googled "active hope" I discovered Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone's book.

Although written in 2012, this book is meant for this time. It was meant for 2020 with all of its ugliness. The authors say...

"Active Hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have."

They discuss how there are three stories for this time, Business as Usual, the Great Unraveling and the Great Turning. This year has clearly dropped us into the Great Unraveling. Between the dismantling of the Constitution and Rule of Law by the Trump administration, COVID19, protestors demonstrating because they have had enough racism and police brutality, climate change disasters, a widening gap between the rich and everyone else, and 38% of the population supporting a hateful future designed by Putin's desire for chaos, I would say that the U.S. is "unraveling" at a frightening speed.

Active hope is the readiness to face these challenges and discover the strengths in ourselves and in others to move from the Great Unraveling toward the Great Turning.

Macy and Johnstone recommend we begin with gratitude, that we recognize the gifts we have so often taken for granted. The practice of gratitude gives us a "psychological bounce" to help us through these troubled time.

This book is not a PollyAnna view of hope. It's more of a "let's get down to work" view. It is not a denial of how hard everything is, but honors the pain we are going through. Both authors are Buddhists and believe the despair we are feeling is an appropriate response to a world in trauma, and that we can be strengthened by it.

Reading this book did not lessen the pain I feel right now, but it did help me to be less afraid of it. And it gave me some tools for managing the pain, so I can help to do the work that needs to be done - the work that is the Great Turning.

Macy and Johnstone believe the we need to see with new eyes, that we need to see a bigger picture. They talk about a "distributed intelligence" where no one part has the whole answer and how acting for a purpose bigger than ourselves strengthens us. All of us have necessary gifts to bring to the table and towards healing. They add...

"The question, How could the Great Turning happen through me, invites a different story to flow through us. This type of power happens through our choices, through what we say and do and are."

This book is a call to action and to a belief that a different type of world is possible. They include one of my favorite quotes, from anthropologist Margaret Mead...

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Across That Bridge by John Lewis

I have defined myself as a nonviolent person since reading Gandhi in college. That view of who I am has been challenged many times in my life, but never as much as since trump took up residence in the white house.

I struggle daily, asking myself... what am I capable of to protect my family, friends, strangers and the U.S. from fascism. My thoughts and words have often not been very comforting nor nonviolent.

I picked up John Lewis' book Across That Bridge after he died. I knew he was a great congressman from Georgia, had marched with Martin Luther King and had received the medal of honor from President Obama.

I wish I had paid closer attention while he was alive. I did not know the depth of his spirituality, strength and commitment to nonviolence.

Lewis describes  struggle as "the act of making things right," both personally and in society. He goes on to say...

"And it is an expression of the inner dissonance a person experiences within his or her own mind and heart,  a continuing disturbance that will not cease until the circumstances have been corrected."

My copy of Across That Bridge bleeds with yellow highlighter. His chapters are broken down into

My favorite quote from his chapter on Peace is "Sometimes you have to be willing to turn things upside down to make them right side up."

I needed this book. I needed it now. It inspired me, it challenged me to be better, it encouraged me to study.

Summer Fiction Reading List

1.   All Adults Here by Emma Straub - When I get a book recommended to me 3 times in 24 hours I am definitely going to check it out. All Adults Here is a fun read about a rather dysfunctional family that manages to pull their lives and relationships together.

2.   The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer. I love reading stories about photographers and this one is about two - Lee Miller and the surrealist Man Ray. Miller was initially Man Ray's model and muse, becoming his assistant and transforming into a major photojournalist and war correspondent.

3.   Beach Read by Emily Henry. This New York Times best seller is about two novelists who are blocked on their latest novels. August Everett writes literary fiction. January Andrews writes romance. They find themselves living in neighboring beach houses and decide to try switching genres. I am looking forward to this one. Sounds fun.

4.   How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue. This book sounds a bit heavier. It begins with the words "We should have known the end was near," and is the story of the collision of a small African village and an American oil company. Feels a bit close to the everyday news, but it also sounds like a story of a community's determination and a young woman's heroism. I am hoping it will be inspiring.

5.   Redhead By The Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. This is a story about Micah Mortimer a self-employed tech expert and a "creature of habit." The reviews describe this as a "compassionate story about seeing the world through new eyes." It's Anne Tyler. Of course it is going to be a delight.

6.   Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini. This historical novel looks at four women who waged "a clandestine battle against Hitler in Nazi Berlin." It was inspired by true events. I love stories of resistance.

7.   Writers and Lovers by Lily King. It is obvious from this list that I love books about creative people, struggling for their "art." Casey works as a waitress in Boston as she works on her book and struggles with her mother's recent death, her student loans and her broken heart. Hey adulting is hard.

8.   Parakeet by Marie-Helen Bertino. How could I resist a book about a young woman whose grandmother (in the form of a parakeet), shows up to warn her, on the week of her wedding, not to marry her fiancé. So how did Bertino ever come up with this idea? Sounds fun to me.

9.   The Queen's Secret by Karen Harper is another historical novel about a strong woman working to defeat Hitler. It's 1939 and "the queen mother," wife of King George VI shows a warm, pleasant face to the world. But Hitler calls her the "most dangerous woman in Europe." She is one strong lady behind her soft voice and takes on not only Hitler but also "Mrs. Simpson," her brother-in-law's wife.

10.   All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny. The 16th novel in the Chief Inspector Gamache series will be released on September 1, 2020. What a perfect way to end my summer fiction reading. I have read the previous 15 novels and have enjoyed each one. Can't wait for the next in this series. Penny creates wonderful characters.

Handling Sin - Book Review by S. Timothy Glasscock

What makes us read? What compels us to keep going, page after page? Is it realism? Character development? A topic we’re already interested in? A well-crafted turn of phrase, perhaps?

Well, all these virtues and more are effortlessly displayed in elegant polish in Michael Malone’s “Handling Sin.” At once, a book of vibrant characters, picturesque scenery, and action-packed forward motion, this novel grabs your attention in an instant and drags you helplessly, frantically, happily onward through chapter upon chapter. Malone’s cast of characters is more than believable, they’re so real you feel sad that you know it’s fiction—you want to meet them, join their adventures, attend their family reunions! It’s a real let down when the book finally has to end. But, oh, is it worth the ride!

Read entire book review

Mercados: Recipes From the Markets of Mexico

"I traveled Mexico for years on end, 
from market to market. 
Because Mexico is in its markets..."
Pablo Neruda

Mercados is part travelogue, part cookbook, part encyclopedia and part coffee table book filled with impressive photographs. It is big... really big with 568 pages, 594 color photos, 12 black and white photos, nine illustrations and one map.

Mercados was released in April 2019 after author David Sterling's death (1951-2016). Sterling is probably best known for his book Yucatan: Recipes From a Culinary Expedition (published in 2014), which won rave reviews and two James Beard awards. 

Sterling moved from New York City to Mexico in 2003 and started the Los Dos Cooking School, which continues to be run by his collaborator and sous chef Mario Canul. Canul traveled with Sterling and took many of the photographs in the book as well as re-tested the recipes after David's death.

Not only was Sterling a chef, author, teacher and businessman, but he was also a designer with his partner Keith Heitke and it shows. Mercados is a beautiful book. Chef Sterling divides the history and recipes into five major regions - Yucatán, Southern Highlands, The Gulf Coast, Central Highlands and the Pacific Region; all are color coded.

I was only on page 2 when I wanted to grab my highlighter pen. But this is such a beautiful book I resisted.

"Market days were and still are times
when all strata of society come together
to share not just the essentials fo survival
but also cultural values - and even gossip."
David Sterling, Page 2 of Mercados

Only a few more pages in I learned that those tiny family-run restaurants in Mexican markets are called "comedores" and the vendors that weave through the market selling the wares they carry in their arms are called "ambulantes." This book is going to be educating me for years to come.

I do not eat meat or poultry so there are a lot of recipes I will have to adapt. But there are so many recipes in this book that I am well covered. The number of recipes alone for beans and corn will keep me busy. And seafood... lots of recipes for seafood.

But first there is the Chocolate de Mesa recipe from the Southern Highlands for beverages on page 77. Or maybe I will start with the quesadillas recipe from the Central Highlands on page 348 or the Chewy Coconut and Pineapple Bars from the Gulf Coast on page 234.

Mercados sits not on my kitchen shelf with my other cookbooks, but on the coffee table in my living room. It is filled with passion for food and a love of Mexico.

A Trump Diary

This book saved me from despair. If I listed the books that have made a difference in my life, A Trump Diary would be in my top 5. 

I cried on election night 2016. I thought "Oh boy are we in for a bumpy ride." What I thought then would be hitting bottom was not even close. These past few years Glasscock's book kept me from going to bed and pulling the covers over my head.

Tim has a way of taking something truly disgusting that Trump has done, and asks "What is there to learn in this for me?" 

My copy of A Trump Diary bleeds yellow highlighting. My favorite quote is...

"Step Forward. Go in the direction of what
you know is your path and defy the darkness."

I love the idea of each of us defying the darkness. I was so inspired by these words that I wrote them down on a stretched canvas and hung them on the wall next to my bed. When I wake up and swing my legs over the side of the bed, those words are the first thing I see. It is my reminder as I rise to not collapse into the darkness. My job is to know my path so I can shine a light.

A Trump Diary is a must read if you are struggling through these times. It will lift you up. Really!

When I decided to launch What Makes Us Come Alive, I contacted Tim and asked if he would be interested in being a contributor. He is a busy man, but I asked anyway. To my delight he said yes.

Many times in the last year I have wondered, when reading the news, "I wonder what Time would say  now?" Well he has written a post for us called "Morning After."  It will give you hope.

Go buy A Trump Diary. You will be glad you did. Buy copies for your friends who are struggling as well. They will thank you.

You can buy A Trump's Diary...
On iBooks
On Amazon

Rainbow Atlas

Do you love color? Do you love to travel?

I bought the book The Rainbow Atlas: a Guide to the World's 500 Most Colorful Places, in the hopeful belief that someday we will be able to leave our homes and once again travel. 

Since moving to Mexico I have a whole new relationship with color. I love having it all around me. The Rainbow Atlas feeds that craving. It does not disappoint. Seven bloggers contribute stories of their most colorful travel experiences.

"The entries in this book are arranged by longitude, starting in Alaska and traveling around the globe to New Zealand." Each entry includes a colorful photograph and recommends the best time of the year to visit for the best weather and the most color. The bloggers cover what's most colorful in the world in nature, urban art, festivals, built environments, leisure and culture and places of worship.

The entries are brief, (there are 500 after all) but contain just enough information to pique your interest and inspire you to once again want to get on an airplane.

So what's on my wishlist from this book? There's a lot, but here are my top ten.

#8 BLOOM, The Abbotsford Tulip Festival in Abbotsford Canada, where you can meander through 2.5 million tulips.

#10 Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle Washington, U.S. This has been on my travel list for awhile now. This is the 1 ½ acre  indoor/outdoor exhibition of glass-artist Dale Chihuly.

#35 Guanajuato, Mexico where colorful homes cover the hills.

#36 Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque New Mexico, U.S. This is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world.

#40 Trajineras, Xochimilco, Mexico CIty, Mexico. Xochimilco is a borough south of Mexico City with an extensive canal system. The trajineras are colorful flat bottom boats that travel the canals.

#61 Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo Mexico. This is a 4.3 mile, quiet island filled with colorful homes and shops.

#62 Northern Lights, Nunavut Canada. Seeing the northern lights has been on my wish list for a long time.

#172 Kelburn Castle, Glasgow Scotland. An old castle nestled in the Scottish woods painted by four Brazilian graffiti artists.

#173 Hidden Lane, Glasgow Scotland. A "charming little lane painted in every color of the rainbow" and home to artists, designers and musicians' studios.

#178 Victoria Street, Edinburgh, Scotland - the inspiration for the Harry Potter novels.

The Rainbow Atlas is a wonderful gift for yourself, for your mom for Mothers Day, for a recent graduate or just for a friend that is sheltering at home and is missing being out and about in the world.

Two Old Women

If you are a woman over 50, this book is going to knock you on your rear, spin you around, make you feel proud and full of gratitude, and finally will make your spirit soar.

Although originally published by Velma Wallis in 1993, Two Old Women's a relevances story for today. As the sub-title states, it is an Alaska legend of betrayal, courage and survival, passed down from mothers to daughters for generations. It is a brilliant tale of two old women abandoned and left to die by their starving tribe one harsh winer.

The elderly women grieve as they watch their family tribe abandon them to their certain death.. Sa', the younger of the two women says, "They think that we are too old and useless. They forget that we, too, have earned the right to live! So I say if we are going to die, my friend, let us die trying, to sitting."

This is a beautifully written adventure full of obstacles to overcome, determination, wisdom and the blessing of friendship. One reviewer called it "an octogenarian version of Thelma and Louise." I strongly disagree. I always felt Thelma and Luise gave up whereas Ch'idzigyaack and Sa' dig deep. They are not having it. They are not going to just give up and die because their tribe does not believe in them.

This short novel speaks to so many issues older women still confront in the 21st century - invisibility, isolation, abandonment, gender and age bias wrapped up together. It's difficult not to be filled with self-doubt when society treats you as someone who lacks value.

However the story also celebrates the strengths of older women - the accumulation of valuable skills, wisdom, friendships and the ability to take a larger view of the world.

Two Old Women filled my heart up. I also cried. I cried about the harsh decisions made by the desperate and fearful tribe. As a vegetarian, I cried for the rabbits and squirrels violently killed so the women could live.

Most of all I rejoiced about the inner strength the women found and were able to pass on. This is truly a heroic journey, but instead of being about young men coming of age, it is a story of honoring ourselves in later life and thus giving a gift to those who follow.