This Blog is Dedicated to our dear friend Karen.
When she left this life she left a hole in our hearts as well as several to be read books.
We, her friends, will read these books for her.
This blog will be a sort of book club for us to post our thoughts and feelings about the stories and feelings we have of Karen while we read.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe #20

The End of Your Life Book Club is about Will (the author) and his mother that is battling stage IV cancer.  Will's mother, 75 years old had breast cancer several years ago.  It was what he called a small bout of cancer which they didn't even need to do chemotherapy or radiation; they just had surgery and it was gone.  Several years later the cancer spread to his mother's pancreas and liver.
Once I read that I couldn't help but think of Karen as her cancer began in her breast, she had surgery (no chemo or radiation) and then it spread to Karen's spine and later to her liver that ultimately took her life.  So, as I read this book I couldn't help but think of Karen and compare the two and really get an inside look at what Karen had to deal with and also see and have a better understanding of how a person must feel knowing their life is ending.
Will Schwalbe loved his mother dearly and wanted to connect with her someway while she was battling cancer, give them something to discuss other than her illness, and since both loved reading they chose to have a book club, just the two of them and share their thoughts and opinions with one another.
As I said, I couldn't help but compare the two woman, Karen and Will's mother, as they both battled stage IV cancer.  So many similarities such as: neither one wanted to be stuck in the hospital.  Also, when dealing with a terminal illness a person does not want to hear "you'll beat this" or hear about how they knew someone that did beat, etc...  They just want to be validated that their illness is real and they know they will most likely die from it. 
Some differences of the two would be Will's family is a very wealthy family from the east coast.  Money was not an issue and they were a very privileged family in the way they got to get up and go, travel and see the world, quit a job just because they didn't like it anymore without having to worry about the consequences of unemployment.  Plus, when dealing with breast cancer Will's mother, just "moved on", if you will.  She "didn't walk in any breast cancer awareness walks or participate in the fund raises, but saw her bout with breast cancer as just a roadblock in her life."  Will's mother's focus was solely on the refugee camps of Afghanistan and Pakistan and the library she had hoped to build to help the people of these countries. 
Karen walked the walks with her family every year until she couldn't anymore.  Her wardrobe consisted of Susan G. Komen "pink" and she even toyed with the idea of getting the breast cancer symbol, a pink ribbon on her wrist, however, she never got to get that tattoo.
Here are a few quotes from the book that I loved:
Still, one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn't the opposite of doing: it's the opposite of dying.
They reminded us that no matter where mom and I were on our individual journey's, we could still share books, we wouldn't be the sick person and the well person, we would simply be a mother and son entering new worlds together.
That's one of the amazing things great books like this do - they don't just get your to see the world differently, they get you to look at people, the people around you differently.
What I suddenly understood was that a thank-you note isn't the price you pay for receiving a gift, as so many children think it is, a kind of minimum tribute or toll, but an opportunity to count your blessings.  And gratitude isn't what you give in exchange for something; it's what you feel when you are blessed - blessed to have family and friends who care about you, and who want to see you happy.
And lastly, the letter Will's mother left him hidden in a book they read together that he opened back up after she passed:
We all owe everyone for everything that happens in our lives.  But it's not owing like a debt to one person - it's really that we owe everyone for everything.  Our whole lives can change in an instant - so each person who keeps that from happening, no matter how small a role they play, is also responsible for all of it.  Just by giving friendship and love, you keep the people around you from giving up - and each expression of friendship or love may be the one that makes the difference.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Are you There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume #249

I'm actually surprised I never got around to reading this book as I was a huge fan of Judy Blume when I was middle school age. Who knows maybe Smithton library didn't have this one? 

This is a sweet story about a 6th grade girl that has many conversations with God. She is a bit confused about religion as her parents have not brought her up in any religion. They have decided to let her make that decision for herself. Before she goes to bed each night she starts with Are you there God its me, Margaret. She doesn't realize it but she is praying. 

I enjoyed this story of a girl at that age and what she is going through. Being a preteen is tough stuff. But I have to say my favorite line in the book is when she decides to check out temple with her Jewish Grandmother. 

Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. I'm going to temple today-with Grandma. It's a holiday. I guess you know that. Well, my dad that thinks it's a mistake and my mother thinks the whole idea is crazy, but I'm going anyway I'm sure this will help me decide what to be. I've never been inside a temple or a church. I'll look for you God. 

How sweet is that? She is trying so hard to find her way. She never does come to an exact resolution at the end of the book but I leave the book thinking God will help Margaret find a church home for her.

Embraced by the Light

A lot of thoughts as I read this book for Karen.
This is an account of a woman's near death experience. I often found myself with my mind wandering, wondering if this is what Karen had felt? Death is such a mystery. I loved the peace and love this woman felt when she passed. It gives us a reassurance of the love our Heavenly Father has for us.
Several times the book expressed that this mortal life is just a small part of our eternal existence, I too believe this.
There were many times I felt the book became a bit too preachy or shared things that may have been to sacred to share in a book.
However I could not find too much I disagree with or would argue.

Here are a couple of quoted from the book I enjoyed:

"We cannot swallow up their sorrow, and we can't plan their joy. All we can do is be a family".

"I have simply been impressed to live within the light of Jesus Christ and to continue to accept his love in my life." - I know Karen would have loved this quote

"We are to love one another. I know that. We are to be kind, to be tolerant, to give generous service. I know that greater joy will come to us through love than in any other way."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell - # 23

This book made me grateful for the lives our kids have. What this poor Eleanor had to deal with on a daily basis just to survive no 16 year old girl should have to endure. Her stepfather made her life so miserable that she literally just tried to be invisible. 

Eleanor and a boy named Park could not be any more opposite to pick out as a match from backgrounds on how they were raised but they actually had so much in common as far as interests and the same sense of humor. Although this was a very sweet story the teenage angst throughout a good portion of the book was sometimes hard to push through. But as I remember (even though it has been quite some time now) that is how a teenage mind thinks. 

I did find it funny as well that this book took place about the time I was a teenager as well. They talked about going to the movies to see Short Circuit and listening to their Walkman, made me laugh. 

I left the book thinking about how there are probably kids just like Eleanor that go with my kid's to school now going through something similar. It is so hard to think about carrying that much baggage for a child and still trying to learn. Saying a prayer for those kids today they find a way out of their terrible situations!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown - #10

This book was beautifully written. I decided to listen to this book in audio version as I was carpooling my kids here and yonder. I enjoyed it this way as there was a lot of detail about how the weather felt that day or the light off the water. I could just feel like I was there as I was driving. 

I may be partial to a book on this subject matter because it was all set right in my neck of the woods. It was based on the University of Washington rowing team that was so successful it actually won the gold in the Berlin Olympics. Which if you remember that time period was during the Hitler time period. So that was a very interesting Olympics to be a part of. 

I adore historical fiction and of course loved learning more about what it was like in a different era right where I live now. Boy oh boy were times different going to University of Washington in their day. Seattle was nothing like the city it is today. But the boys on this rowing team worked SOOO hard to get where they were and lived a lifetime staying connected by this magnificent accomplishment. It reminded me a lot of our group of friends. Very different people but still have stay connected and I suspect this passing of a friend we all held so dear to our hearts make us even closer. 

I think Karen would have enjoyed this book as she loved sports and stories of overcoming great odds. I think you guys should all add this one to your list to read and I highly recommend doing the audio version.

#433 Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


When I started this book I thought it was going to be a light, quirky read about a genius 12 year old and how she is so awkward amongst her peers due to her high IQ.  I would have been pleased with that alone, but it was much more.  A tragedy took place leaving this child lost temporarily, however, the group of people she had surrounded herself with became the most unlikely family she could have expected yet accepted her and grew to love her.  It was so nice seeing how these loners came together and grow and it shows how family isn't always blood.

One of my favorite quotes in the book was when Willow explains why she was found in the library directly after she found out the bad news:

To me anyway.

I could relate with Willow and found it perfect as the six of us work on reading Karen's books.  It brings us comfort.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The First Phone Call from Heaven Mitch Albom #37

Probably because I'm an absolute idiot this was my first book I chose to read off of Karen's Goodreads list. To say it was difficult subject matter thinking about death, loss and the people left behind dealing with it during this time is an understatement. I had to put the book down many times to just well - breathe. 

The book itself is just not my style of book at all. It read more like a Lifetime movie and you want to just roll your eyes at just how predictable it is. But just like a Lifetime movie it is also like a guilty pleasure of letting it pull at your heartstrings and suck you into the story of these people's lives. 

The book is mainly about just what the book says people in the town getting phone calls from heaven from loved ones who have previously passed away. These phone calls are handled in many different ways grateful to hear from their loved ones, anger for feeling like someone is pulling a mean prank and one just becomes depressed as every time she talks to her son she just wants him there with her. She felt like it had pushed her back to square one in her grieving process. This made me of course think about getting a phone call from Karen. I initially thought of course I would want one but then after reading this quote in the book I had other thoughts: 

No more calls. There is a time for hello and a time for goodbye. 

She realized that she had gotten to the point that she had was doing good with the closure and knowing that she would someday see her son again. She didn't need to be reminded where her son was she had no question she knew he was in heaven. I can see her point. I know where my friend is and I know she is so happy and pain free there. I know Karen knew I loved her and we will see each other again. I know when my time comes she will be one of the first people to greet me with the words - it's about time come over and give me a hug friend! 

Still Alice

Still Alice is a book told by a 51 year old woman who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease.
 Through the story Alice struggles to find meaning in who she is. She had been a successful professor at Harvard, and it seems all at once all she has worked for is taken away. 
The relationships she has with her loved ones take some twists and turns along the way.

As I read this book with Karen in mind several thoughts came to mind where Alice and Karen's feelings had to be very similar. Here are a couple that had me thinking of Karen:

"She wished she had cancer instead, She'd trade Alzheimer's for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she'd have something she could fight. There was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Ther was the chance that she could win. ... And even if defeated int he end, she'd be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say good-bye before she left".
--As I read that I couldn't help but think of Karen the Fighter. How grateful I am that she could tell her loved ones good-bye ...for now. 

the next part that made me think of Karen brought a huge smile to my face, and I  felt like Karen put these words in here just for me, knowing I would be reading this book for her:

"...And the smell. She couldn't wait to smell her delicious grandchildren"
 -- Karen and I were the only ones of our friends who were blessed to be aunts while still in school, I remember her talking about these babies and how she just loved to smell their heads, - thanks for this Karen, I will never smell a baby's head and not think of you :)

and the last quote from the book that brought strong feelings of Karen:

"My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment"

This could be Karen's exact words, she knew how to live in the moment and make that moment the best. She know how to live in that moment and how to make that moment matter for days, years, even lifetimes. 

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes #82


This is one of my favorite books.  A classis children's story about a young girl that is different and lives on the poor side of town and wants to fit in.  She tells her classmates she has 100 dresses and then the girls tease her daily about the dresses.  One of the girls starts to feel guilty about teasing her as she too is not from a wealthy family and wears hand-me-downs and fears she will be the next one teased. 

The story is wonderful for young girls to read so they can understand empathy and kindness and even regret and how to make things better when making a bad choice.  I've read this one with my daughter a couple times now and her 3rd grade teacher read it to her class as well.  It's one worth reading over and over. 

I really feel Karen would have loved this book, too.  It reminded me of several stories we shared with each other about Christmas gifts and the clothes we would trade or share or even the one time we bought the same dress.  I really feel Karen would have been empathetic toward the young girl, too.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Gideon's Gift by Karen Kingsbury #27


Gideon's Gift by Karen Kingsbury was the second book I chose to read with Karen.  Karen has listed several Karen Kingsbury books on her goodreads page so when I went to the library I just picked out the first one I saw.  I didn't read what the book was about, but was thrilled to see it was a short story.  However, once I got into the story I realized it was about a young girl that was dying from cancer.  Not what any of us feel like reading at this point in our life, after losing Karen to this awful disease, however, I kept reading and of course, with it being a Karen Kingsbury book, it had a happy ending.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Love Walked In by Marisa De Los Santos #343

Love Walked In was the first book I read "with Karen".  When I saw it on her 'to-read' list and knew I had a copy I decided to dive right in.  It's not a conventional love story by any mean.  It's about a young woman and a lost girl and how their relationship strengthens each other. 

I have no idea if she would have liked it or not, but I like to think she would have enjoyed it.  I wish I could have discussed this one with her and share my favorite passages with her and I guess I can, right here.  So, here are a couple that moved me or made me smile.

"I want my mommy."

"I thought about those words, how they contained so much more than they seemed to contain, more than any four words could hold.  They meant what they meant and were also a universal cry, maybe the universal, plaintive, openhearted cry for comfort.  Soldiers in the heat of battle; death-row prisoners; explorers stranded in deserts, jungles, on mountaintops; anyone sick or lost or just tired and bewildered: we all wanted our mothers.  I thought about my own mother - straight - backed, eternally smiling, never without tissues, Band-Aids, lipstick, aspirin, optimism and reassurance.  Mothers - why didn't they all collapse under such weight?"  page 56

While reading this book for Karen and seeing how she was a mother, a devoted mother, this quote touched me, a lot. 

"I mean, if you gave some guy the assignment of creating a woman using as little material as possible but without cutting any corners, he'd make you." page 219

Karen, the romantic, I thought you'd appreciate this one.  I know it made me smile.