Friday, December 28, 2018

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“When you face the sun, the shadows always fall behind you.”

                                                             Helen Keller

Monday, August 13, 2018

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”

            Leonard Cohen song Anthem

Friday, July 13, 2018

Book Club

I was privileged to participate in a program called Leadership Montgomery six years ago. While I learned many lessons in that leadership development program and made many contacts, by far the most meaningful thing to come out of it was my book club, with five other women from my graduating class.

Now, I’ve never before this wanted to be in a book club.  I liked to read what I felt like reading, when I felt like reading it. But this group changed my mind.

We like to think we’re one of the more eclectic book clubs around, reading not just bestsellers and book club favorites but a selection of sometimes not so well known fiction and non-fiction that invokes our curiosity and pleases and challenges us. We follow a hybrid of book club styles, meaning that there is dinner and lots of wine but we also thoroughly discuss the books.

Through the more than 30 books we’ve read together thus far we’ve endured family drama with some twisted, some endearing characters; we’ve experienced life as immigrants from Africa and China; we’ve lived as children in the slums of India.  We’ve been betrayed by those we love; we’ve been up close and personal with the Loch Ness monster; we’ve been an abused wife with a dark heart; we’ve had a harrowing escape from North Korea.

We’ve grown up poor in Appalachia; we’ve been botanical explorers; we’ve been taxi drivers and maids; we’ve been spies in Iran.  We’ve had magical adventures in the Amazon and Portugal; we’ve said yes to everything that scared us; we’ve journeyed across the country to find adoptive parents. We’ve nearly been killed pushing for girls’ education in Afghanistan; we’ve been Supreme Court justices, abolitionists, scientific miracles, and Bollywood brides.

Sometimes book club members host at their homes, sometimes at restaurants (we don’t judge). At our gatherings we’ve eaten Trinidadian cuisine, Persian cuisine, vegetarian Chinese and more.  We always have dessert, unapologetically.

Through the friendships we’ve developed as members of the book club we’ve loved children and grandchildren; we’ve mourned mothers’ deaths; we’ve shared vicariously travels around the world; we've bemoaned political disasters. We’ve been caregivers; we’ve had spouses gravely ill; we’ve retired, both permanently and temporarily; we’ve taken on new challenges; we’ve struggled with jobs. We’ve painted, published, mediated, advocated for the environment, run companies, served our communities, loved our families, and lived rich and full lives.  

We won’t let anything get in the way of attending our book club meetings, and if something comes up that will, we change the date so everyone can be there. The benefits are bifold—what we get from the books and what we get from each other.

Books We’ve Read
·         State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
·         Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
·         A Time to Betray by Reza Kahlili
·         Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
·         I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
·         My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
·         The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
·         The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Safak
·         The Vacationers by Emma Straub
·         The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
·         Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
·         The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
·         The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
·         When We Were Friends by Tina Seskis
·         Grace in the Gray Areas by Karen Kullgren
·         At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
·         Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
·         The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
·         The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
·         The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
·         Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
·         Even in Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez
·         Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
·         The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
·         The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
·         The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
·         Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
·         All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
·         Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
·         A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman
·         Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
·         Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

In Honor of Teacher Appreciation Day

My favorite teacher growing up was Kathy Kearnan.  Miss Kearnan was my 6th grade teacher and was the inspiration for two of the most important trajectories in my life, my love of world cultures and of writing. 

She always had us doing readings and projects in geography and history where we learned about other countries. I had a long stint in the Asia field academically and professionally (and personally, for that matter) that probably had its roots in that early curriculum.

One of the biggest projects we did all year was a class poetry book, where the students did everything from writing the poems to binding the books in cloth we prepared ourselves. Miss Kearnan brought out the poet in everyone, a lasting legacy for me and I’m sure others in the class.

On April Fool’s Day the class turned all our desks around while Miss Kearnan was out of the room.  She returned, supremely annoyed at the interruption, took away our recess, and assigned us Russian schoolwork (we hadn’t studied Russian before then) which we all diligently and grumblingly started on before we got the joke.

Perhaps most importantly, the way she nurtured our talents and skills gave me confidence in myself.

Miss Kearnan was a beautiful role model of a smart woman and a devoted teacher I was lucky to have.

Who was your favorite teacher?

Friday, May 4, 2018

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“It is one of the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of
our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive.”

                                                                      (C. W. Leadbeater)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

"Grace becomes ours when we pull together the increasingly fragmented pieces of our lives and integrate them into a sustained pattern of meaning." 
                                                                                  (Alexandra Stoddard)

Monday, March 5, 2018

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

Hearth and fire be ours tonight,
       And all the dark outside.
       Fair the night, and kind on you
       Wherever you may bide.

           And I'd be the sun upon your head,
           The wind about your face,
           My love upon the path you tread,
           And on all your wanderings, peace.

                                         Gordon Bok

Monday, February 12, 2018

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“The only trust required is to know that when there is one ending there will be another beginning.”

                                                                                              (Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Remembering Mom

My beloved mother passed away two weeks ago.

I wrote an essay once about my mom with the alarmist title “I’m Turning into My Mother,” and it chronicled some silly and scary things that I got from her.  But the truth is more complex, because I also got a lot of really fine qualities from this woman.

I got an instinct to rescue abandoned baby birds and dogs wandering on the side of the road, to listen to young people who were having trouble with their parents or other parts of their lives, to offer shelter to friends and strangers.

I got a strong sense of social justice, too: my mom always stood up for what was right.  She was one of the champions right here in Rockville of a project to bring access to the town’s center to residents of a predominantly black neighborhood on the “wrong side of the tracks.”

I got a pretty good sense of humor—we were neither of us ones for telling jokes but we did enjoy them, and we both tried to appreciate the ones life played on us.  When something set us off no one could reduce me to tears of laughter the way Mom could.

I got an excellent grounding in how to be a good friend by watching my mom be one as I grew up.  And I’m a better mother for having been parented by her. Mom always strove to do the best for her children, even as we became older adults, and she loved Jeff and me ferociously.

I got an artistic sensibility though not as much as Mom had. We were all surprised and thrilled when while doing her Associate’s degree at Montgomery College she turned out to be a talented painter.  And she had her hand in all kinds of handiwork and other artistic endeavors with her church crafter’s group.

I got a penchant for sociability and sharing other people’s stories from Mom, too.  Turns out she was quite the writer, as she proved in the writing group she attended here at the church. And her sociability was evidenced in things like her zipping around her beloved Fresh Market on her scooter (a gift from her cousin Annetta) talking to all the department managers about their respective days.

I got a sense of civic responsibility from her from the time I was in elementary school stuffing envelopes for political campaigns and hanging out the back of our station wagon stumping for candidates.  Mom ran many political campaigns back in Holliston, Massachusetts where Jeff and I grew up, and was highly respected in political circles there. 

I got a lot of strength and resilience from Mom, who weathered many a storm.

These are just a few things I got from my mother.  I also got imperfections and foibles, and a tendency to anxiety I could do without. But in balance I wouldn’t have wanted to be anyone else’s daughter other than Suzanne Marie Kullgren’s.