Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Book 198: Born Survivors by Wendy Holden

I'm no expert on the Holocaust, but I have read quite a few books and consider myself relatively knowledgeable on the topic. I was quite surprised when I discovered this book and an entire new set of stories underlying those I had already heard.

Mauthausen was one of the many camps that were liberated by the Americans once Germany surrendered at the end of World War II. It was in Austria, near the Danube River, and housed many Polish and Czechoslovakian citizens, the majority of whom were Jewish. Among those imprisoned in Mauthausen were three pregnant women whose lives were shattered by the Nazi occupation of their home countries.

Born Survivors contains three miraculous stories - those of Rachel, Anka, and Priska - who somehow became pregnant (by their husbands, of course) and carried their babies to term while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. These three women knew nothing of each other but shared identical [unfathomably horrible] living situations on other sides of the camps. They gave birth within days of each other to the youngest living concentration camp survivors: Eva Clarke, Hana Berger Moran, and Mark Olsky, who reunited years later and told their stories to author Wendy Holden.

You know how movie critics give pat reviews for movies they feel good about? This is not one of those reviews. When I say this book was a TRIUMPH, I mean it. Wendy Holden somehow assembled the three mothers' stories, the stories of their children, and each family's histories and facts related to their incarceration, and their families' deaths. I was in awe of her ability to recant each woman's story individually and then tie them all together at the end. I was simultaneously in awe of the women's ability to survive such dire circumstances and the biological and spiritual resolve to carry their children to term, deliver them into the world, and see to it that they all survived despite the brutality of their Nazi captors. Further, I was in awe of how these babies became aware of each other through the common connection of the soldiers of the U.S. Army's 11th Armored Division, their liberators.

Here's an article that discusses the reunion of the three "babies" of Mauthausen and the fascinating instantaneous bond they all shared upon meeting each other.

I came away from this book with a deeper appreciation of the resilience of the human spirit and the interconnected and interdependent nature of life itself. I hope you will pick up Born Survivors - it will change you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Book 197: Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky (Audiobook read by Andrew Garman)

Mark Kurlansky has written exhaustive books on everything from the history of the American oyster to the story of Clarence Birdseye and frozen food. Usually his books are interesting, but this one felt like a chore. The book was longer than it needed to be, and narrator Andrew Garman did not help, either. This audiobook was a drag. I couldn't wait to be through with it.

Despite the almost complete bore fest, there were a few tidbits hidden within the pages of this book that had to deal with watercolors, which is one of my interests. (Read this article on Medium.) Through Paper: Paging Through History, I learned that watercolors were used for a long time in other countries (Japan, China) and finally "adopted" by British artist Turner, who made watercolor a more widely  accepted art form. (Professional grade watercolor paper is usually made made of cotton, not wood, because it absorbs the water and leaves the pigment behind.)

I also learned about xuan paper, which is made from the bark of blue sandalwood in China, and it takes two years to prepare the raw materials to make the paper. Part of the process is laying the materials out on a hillside for months at a time and turning them periodically. (Professional watercolorists use double xuan, which is more absorbent than the single ply version.) Of course, I immediately had to find a xuan paper maker that would ship to Delaware. For $55 a sheet, I could have my very own xuan paper. Ummmm....

One more fairly interesting thing was that paper was initially made from rags, like the kind you might have sitting in your basement waiting to be used for dirty work - ripped up tee shirts and the like. There were people who went around collecting rags for paper mills, which cooked down materials until they were basically sludge and then put them into trays to dry to make paper. The idea of using wood fibers to make paper wasn't introduced to the western world until the late 1800s. In the U.S., the first operating paper mill was in my hometown of Philadelphia, near where I grew up. And they routinely ran out of rags and had to reach out to housewives to get them to save their rags to make paper.

Not every learning experience is a pleasant one, I suppose. Kurlansky's book was like that for me.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Book 196: The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin

Celia Fremlin wrote this book before she died. Her publisher, Faber & Faber, reached out to me to read the book and write a review of The Long Shadow and publish it today as part of an international blog tour. And I am extraordinarily sad that I can't tell Celia myself how much I loved it!

Imogen, the main character of this story, has lost her husband. She's been trying to put the pieces of her life together ever since he died so that she could move on. She's been in sort of a funk, and some guy keeps accusing her of having something to do with her husband's death.

All of a sudden, her family - her husband's stepchildren, their families, and even one of her husband's ex-wives - descend upon Imogen's home to keep her company during the Christmas holiday. Just as suddenly, odd things begin to happen around the house that make her question her own sanity and analyze the relationship she had with her husband. Who was he, really? What did she really know about him? The truth eventually comes out.

This book is full of surprises. Just when I thought I understood what was happening, Fremlin would open another door with her writing that I didn't even know was there.

I'm not going to tell you the conclusion, but I will say that if you love a good mystery, this is a great book to dig into!

And thank you, Joanna Lee of Faber & Faber, for the opportunity to contribute to the blog tour!



Saturday, October 6, 2018

Book 195: A Case of Need by Michael Crichton

Last week, I mentioned this book to my boss and told him I thought it was one of Michael Crichton's last books written before he died. I was completely wrong: this was one of the first books Crichton ever wrote - and in fact, he wrote it when he was still in medical school.

The book was a quick read, but a good one. It is the story of a pathologist (someone who figures out what kind of illness or cancer or infection a patient has based on evidence) that finds out that a colleague has been arrested on charges of performing an illegal abortion... because the patient died of a hemorrhage. He knows his colleague is innocent of the charges and decides to stretch the boundaries of his job description a bit to solve a murder and clear his friend's name.

I am the Ardent Reader, and I am very fussy about the books I read. I start and put down more than I finish, just because I know life is short and my bookshelf is stuffed with books I must finish before I die. I tell you this because I don't often find books that are as intense and engaging as this one - and it hooked me from the very first page. I don't want to spoil the book for you, but I'll tell you one thing: it definitely had momentum... and a ton of twists. And, like most Michael Crichton books, A Case of Need was filled with all kinds of real science, so I learned a thing or two along the way.

There were some hints here and there that the story was not set in today's modern healthcare setting. For one, the doctors all smoked inside and stowed flasks in their desk drawers. Abortion was also illegal in this book, so I knew it had to be set sometime before Roe v. Wade. In fact, Crichton wrote this book in 1969, which I didn't find out until the end. 

A Case of Need was available on Amazon Prime Reading, so I borrowed it for nothing! I hope you'll put it on your list of books to read. I found it fascinating.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Book 194: Fascism: A Warning by Madeline Albright (Audiobook read by author)

Well, this was one of the most disturbing books I've ever read.

I'm not sure what your political views are, but I have been closely following the insanity documented by the press ever since my world was completely changed in 2016. I'd heard the word "fascism" a thousand times before, but never knew the depth of that term's meaning. I have a lot of respect for Madeline Albright, so I figured if anyone was going to give me the lowdown, it would be her. 

Albright didn't disappoint me - although I did sometimes wish she would have paid a narrator instead of reading the book herself. (At a few points, it was clear that her voice was fatigued, and I sort of felt bad for her.) She presented a historical perspective on the fascists in history and did it incredibly well. Then she turned the tables on me and pointed her attention at today's political environment here in the U.S. 

Fascism is about riling up people, using their anger and nationalist tendencies to build political support. Truth has no place in fascist strategy - lies are much more effective. Fascists play on fears, ignorance, and pride (not good pride.) In her book, Albright profiles Hitler, Mussolini, and many lesser-known world leaders in this book to illustrate how fascism takes hold within otherwise civilized societies. 

Toward the end, Albright provides her readers with a list of questions that people should ask themselves about their leaders. This was enormously helpful for me. 

I hope you'll read this book. Thanks. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Book 193: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

There are only so many short books that are as memorable as this one. The life of Frederick Douglass narrated by himself is a crushing, fascinating book that will remain with me for a long time to come. Elie Wiesel's Night and Victor Frankl's A Man's Search for Meaning come to mind.

I picked up this book from the Gutenberg Project, which allows you to download free e-books (here's the link for this one). I never knew the details of Douglass's early life. From birth, his entire life was impacted by slavery. I was disheartened to learn of his early separation from his mother which was orchestrated for one reason: to destroy the mother-child bond before it could begin.

The cruelty described within this short little book will surprise you. Though most of us are familiar with some of the horrors of slavery, Douglass describes some I've never heard before. I now understand the hardness and resolve in his eyes that is captured in not one but all of the photos I've ever seen of him.

I was quite surprised by the conclusion of this book, in which Douglass describes the profound cruelty of the "pious slave owner" who professes faith in Christ and then uses his religion to cover the most heinous crimes.

I think this book should be required reading for every American.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Book 192: Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pederson

Damn, this book was funny... and also, not so funny. So many people died because of the insane cures that were detailed in this book.

Quackery is a list of certifiably ridiculous "solutions" that were concocted by their creators to heal people. In some cases, the quacks themselves believed in their cures, and in other cases, they knowingly defrauded their own patients.

The authors of this book are so, so snarky. I enjoyed the little remarks here and there that just brought the insanity of the "cures" home for the modern reader. I liked the photographs, too, although they probably would have shown up a lot better in the printed version of the book. (I had it on my Kindle Paperwhite.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I think you would, too.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Book 191: The Shape of Water by Guillermo Del Toro and Daniel Kraus (Audio book)

The movie was beautiful, poignant, and well made, but the book had more of an impact on me. I was happy to have it as company on a really long road trip. And it was really good.

This book is unique, because its author was also the director of the movie. Guillermo Del Toro - who made the most disturbing movie I've ever seen (Pan's Labrynth) - has created a book that is engaging on so many levels.

In the book, some of the characters are more well cultivated in the book than they were in the movie. Some characters are more interconnected than I originally thought, and at least two did not exist at all in the movie but appeared prominently and were in fact instrumental to the story in the book.

The story of the Gill God, Eliza, Giles, Zelda, and Strickland and his wife Elaine is an incredible one. It begins in the jungle and ends in Baltimore sometime in the 1960s. On their regular rounds as custodians for a scientific research facility, Eliza and Zelda encounter an amazing creature being held captive in a lab. When Eliza - who is mute - discovers that she can communicate with the creature, they become inseparable. The story that unfolds is one of courage, strength, and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds.

I hope you'll pick up this book because it was worth reading, even after seeing the movie and having a preconceived notion of what things looked, felt, and sounded like.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Book 190: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (Audiobook)

I am so-o-o-o lucky to have a coworker who is happy to share her advanced listener's copies of audio books. That's how I got my hands on this fantastic book.

It started out a little bit slow... but in no time I was hooked on the story so cleverly assembled by the authors. Every time I had to get out of the car, I was upset that I didn't have more time to listen.

The Wife Between Us is the story of two women who fall in love with the same man. Their stories are interwoven in such a way that it's almost impossible to tell them apart. And when the surprises come, they aren't just surprises... they're thrills... the kind that give you goosebumps when you realize you've been wrong all along.

I can't tell you much more without blowing the big secrets in the book, but the themes are clear. Abuse comes in many forms. Perception is everything. And people who will lie about the little things will lie about big things.

Definitely, definitely, definitely pick this up and read it. And pay attention.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Book 189: Origin by Dan Brown (Audiobook)

The author of The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons wrote this book last year and it was heralded by everyone who read it as amazing. I'm not sure I'd use that word to describe it, but it certainly was entertaining.

I really like Dan Brown for his original stories and the fascinating way he weaves together fact and fiction. Origin didn't disappoint at all in that aspect. In fact, I can't imagine how much research Brown had to conduct to create the story lines of Origin and his previous books.

Where I feel he falls short, though, is in the dialogue. The main character, Robert Langdon, is the same professor that unraveled the mysteries in the books cited above. In those books and in Origin, when Professor Langdon explains something to another character, it's almost like he's reading the information out of a textbook. For me, the dialogue makes the exchanges feel disingenuous.

    Other than that one small thing, Origin was a fascinating read. I loved the characters and plot twists. Like The DaVinci Code, Origin makes you question what you thought you knew about the world around you. Brown uses his characters to hypothesize about Earth's beginnings and the future of humanity. I was absolutely fascinated.

    Monday, June 4, 2018

    Book 188: Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (Audiobook)

    Well now that I've got my blog back, I thought I'd review one of the five or six books I've read during the month of May. 😉  I'll start with the most recent since it's fresh in my brain.

    Eaters of the Dead was my first introduction to - well - anything Norse. It's part fiction, part fable, and it's a pretty entertaining book. The audio version - read by one of my favorite narrators, Simon Vance, is awesome.

    It's the story of Ibn Fadlan, who was a scholar and a traveler in the tenth century. He's one of the writers that captured the state of the Norsemen and their tribes in historical accounts. He was an outsider, which made his observations on their rituals and behavior all the more poignant.

    Ibn Fadlan was sent by the caliph of Baghdad to deliver a message to king in a faraway land. During his travels he was united with the Vikings and kept a firsthand account of his interactions with them. He discussed the way they ate to the way they copulated and everything in between. Anyone who is fussy about their own cleanliness will enjoy this book, as Ibn Fadlan is truly disgusted many times over in this book. I laughed a few times at his reaction to certain standard Viking practices. He also emerges from the experience a different, more resilient person.

    The Eaters of the Dead contains a theory that the "monsters" discussed in Ibn Fedlan's account could actually be the last remaining Neanderthals. I hadn't heard of this theory before. Since we don't know for sure, I sort of feel like, "Well, why not?"

    I really liked this book and I'd listen to it again in an instant.

    Saturday, June 2, 2018

    Taking the Plunge from Being Employed to Starting Your Own Gig by Mohamed Adel (Guest Blogger)

    When Esther kindly invited me to contribute to her inspirational and successful blog, I wasn’t sure what to write about. 

    Perhaps I should write about my fascination with world cultures and my passion for snail mail in this age of technology as a means to connect with people from different backgrounds living thousands of miles away? Should I write about connecting with people who might be different from our norms and our beliefs and convictions? Or should I write about understanding and accepting those who are different to us? Or conflict resolution in our communities and in the wider world? 

    Instead I decided to settle on writing about entrepreneurship, that glorified and feared word. I wanted to write not the regular everyday PR talk you find in magazines and on websites, but share honest straightforward advice from everyday entrepreneurs and business people who experienced both success and failure.

    I came from a long family of employees. My mother was a teacher and father was a military officer.

    After completing a degree in Pharmaceutical sciences, and contrary to their advice, I passed on taking a comfortable government job or choosing a career in academia.

    I chose to work in retail, sales, and marketing to develop the most important skills to transition from being employed to hanging out my shingle. But taking the plunge isn’t everyone`s game and it isn’t for the faint-hearted.

    Over the years I have probably talked to hundreds of entrepreneurs, friends, contacts, and acquaintances, and took paid and free consulting and freelance gigs to be close to founders and entrepreneurs to experience the action first hand and observe their attitude. I asked them questions, seeking advice, trying to analyze their actions and attitude. I loved to listen their insights on various matters from sales, managing human resources, life goals, success to macroeconomy. 

    I agreed and disagreed with their opinions, but learned some valuable lessons. I will try to summarize some of those lessons to you:
    1. It is true what they say, you can’t “over plan.” Economy changes, situations change, forecasts in many instances turn unrealistic. But planning makes you prepared. Ready for the unexpected. Like armies when conducting war games to maximize preparation. And don’t forget to write everything down
    2. It all starts with a dream, a decision, and setting your goals, then keeping an eye on the ball, and committing to those goals. The situation might change, and your plans and strategy need to change, but not the essence of your goals.
    3. Surround yourself with like-minded people - those who took the plunge before you. Learn from them, ask questions, listen to their chatter, discuss business with them, seek advice. This will help you to sleep, breath and live your dream.
    If you followed the previous points, a lack of capital or dire financial responsibilities won`t deter you.
    1. A good idea, a plan, experience, commitment and consistency and right attitude is the equation to building a successful business.
    2. Failure and committing mistakes is a part of the game. Even most seasoned business people fail sometimes. But their experience, knowledge and acumen developed over years of trying lead them to success. Don`t let your fear of failure and the uncertainty take control of your life. 
    3. Don`t believe all what you read, hear. Analyze, examine, reflect, and filter all advice you get. 
    4. All those business leaders we hear about in the TV and read about in business magazines aren’t flawless. They have biases, anxieties, and they commit mistakes on daily basis. 
    5. Growing up in a rich family, or a family of business owners and entrepreneurs really helps, but it is not mandatory for success. 
    6. You don’t learn starting successful businesses in classrooms, you learn it in the battlefield, in the market. 

    Mohamed Adel is a healthcare sales and marketing professional and pharmacist by education. In 2004, he moved from his home country, Egypt, to Dubai, UAE, where he currently lives and works. He is a snail mail enthusiast and is interested in travel, art, eastern European classical music, entrepreneurship, current affairs, and conflict resolution.


    This blog post was curated and/or edited by The Ardent Reader, Esther Hofknecht Curtis, BSOL, MSM-HCA. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the guest blogger. Visit Esther's page at for more information

    Friday, June 1, 2018

    Writing is Not a Career by Michael Dickel (Guest Blogger)

    As an 18 y.o., first-year, university student, I took some of my poems to my Humanities professor. I knew I was supposed to be thinking about my “career,” and told her that I wanted to be a poet or a writer (I don’t remember which I said) for my career.

    She said that choosing to write was “choosing to not have a career.” I recall her message being that writers did more than the word “career” entails, that being a writer was more than a job, perhaps more like choosing to have many careers.

    You might say, it’s a calling.

    She also gently critiqued my “poems.” I was a bit disappointed to find out that I hadn’t actually chosen my career yet, but more disappointed that my poems were not brilliant enough to send to The New Yorker immediately.

    Yet, I persisted with my writing.

    On paper, I could fool you into thinking I’ve had a career. However, the details reveal a wandering path of switchbacks, valleys, hills—of turns taken and ignored.

    Here are some of the jobs I had from University undergraduate studies until returning to graduate school a decade later: warehouse order-packer, delivery person, retail home-improvement sales, overnight counselor, counselor, child-care worker, social worker case aid, and mental health worker…

    All of that time, I wrote.

    I wrote poetry. I wrote short stories. I attempted songs. I tried a novel. But no editor published any of it—until 1987, just before entering a creative writing program.

    The truth is, I have always been a writer. The first poem that I remember is from 3rd or 4th grade. I also remember one from 6th grade. Third grade was about 55 years ago. And I revised a poem this morning.

    So, I have been writing my whole life.

    Occasionally, I have been paid to write or edit. While in graduate school and since, for (not much) money, I have: edited a book review section of the University student paper, written grants, written book reviews and interviews, and researched and written scripts for documentary films. I have even written website content and social media posts.

    However, I also have: designed databases, provided technical assistance, and worked as a handyman.

    I have not yet made a living by writing. Probably this is because I mostly write literary genres—poetry, flash fiction, short stories, occasional essays. No one has offered to give me a salary for any of it. Even my books provide negligible income.

    Yet, I persist as a writer.

    Most people who know me or look over my CV might think that I’ve had a career in academia. After all, I have worked in academia for over 30 years. It has not been a career, though—I did not write critical articles that an academic literature career requires, and I have never held a tenure-track job.

    Mostly, I have had some form of renewable contract work that was not quite adjunct. A lot of it has been teaching composition, most of it administering writing centers. Directing writing centers is the closest to a “career” for me—I started in the 1990s, as a graduate student, and continued through 2006. I published articles related to writing centers and learning centers. I was active in professional organizations and helped organize conferences.

    All of that, though, was for my job.

    In 2007, I left the United States for Israel, where I now live. I have taught here most of the time since—as an adjunct, mostly teaching English as a foreign language. My writing has taken off in this time. Although The New Yorker still has not published any of my poems, every year or two I send them a few.

    Still, most of my books were published since I moved.

    I won some awards (with cash prizes), edited (without pay) some nice journals, and have immersed in the life of a writer. As I look to the possibility of signing up for Social Security and moving my job situation from employment toward semi-retirement, I realize that I have not had a writing career.

    But, I have had a writing life.


    Michael Dickel’s writing and art appear in print and online. His poetry has won international awards and been translated into several languages. Breakfast at the End of Capitalism came out in 2017, The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden, in 2016. Previous books include: War Surrounds Us, Midwest / Mid-East, and The World Behind It, Chaos… He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36, was managing editor for arc-23 and 24, and is a past-chair of the Israel Association of Writers in English. He is a contributing editor of The BeZine ( With Israeli producer/director David Fisher, he received a U.S.A. National Endowment of the Humanities documentary-film development grant through their Bridging Cultures program. 


    Twitter @MYDekel469


    This blog post was curated and/or edited by The Ardent Reader, Esther Hofknecht Curtis, BSOL, MSM-HCA. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the guest blogger. Visit for more information.

    Thursday, May 31, 2018

    Past and Future by Carrie M. Goff (Guest Blogger)

    You say I live in the past
    That I retell stories of what was
    You offer me a future
    A golden brick path
    Cool, deep rivers of safety
    Wild stallion passion
    And, I talk of the past

    I speak of him too often 
    And relive what it was like
    To dodge his words slung in anger
    I question your motives
    I distrust your offerings
    I look for the hidden rust
    Rot, lies, deceit

    I am rendered speechless 
    When you are unselfish.
    I cannot fully trust
    Your promises made so casually
    The memory of betrayal
    As fresh as a slaughtered animal
    The smell of blood still in my nose

    How can you understand 
    What the light you offer me means
    Without hearing about how dim it was?
    How can I describe what color means:
    Oxblood, Azure, Burnt Sienna, Saffron
    Without making you understand
    That all I had was ghost, bleached, white?

    The burlap sacking that was my bed
    Makes the satin sheets you offer
    So soothing I could weep.
    The bitter herbs that were my sustenance
    Prepared my palate for the fare
    You so tenderly create with your beautiful hands.
    How can you understand if I don’t tell you?

    The home I had on the hilltop
    Willows, and oaks surrounded
    Ponds and fountains.
    Hidden, charming, unique
    Wasn’t filled with love, but indifference
    I roamed the empty rooms devoid of laughter
    I’d rather live in a tent with your love.

    My ears were covered with bloodied hands
    To block out the hate
    So, I could hear nothing but muffled echoes
    How can you fathom what it was like
    The first time you pried away my fingers
    And held my face in your hands
    And played me a symphony?

    The bath you have drawn for me
    Scalds every scratch, blister and wound
    Invisible to the eye, they still make me wince.
    I gingerly slip my bruised and bloodied feet
    Into the satin slippers you provide
    And accept the cashmere gown
    Around my scarred shoulders. 

    You cannot understand 
    How the warmth of your body
    Soaks into my frozen heart
    And thaws hidden feelings
    The tenderness of your touch
    Fires neurons long since forgotten
    I come alive under your heartbeat.

    I fall into a weightless slumber
    Wrapped in your iron arms
    The nightmares no longer come
    During the daylight or midnight
    Sleep no longer holds horrors
    I am not afraid to close my eyes
    Do you know what you have done for me?

    The past holds no bitterness
    I don’t retell the stories to garner sympathy.
    But, I am like a city child who 
    Sees a desert starry sky for the first time.
    Someone who has only known walking
    Riding the bullet train for the first time.
    The utter awe; I must compare. I must tell.

    It is said that time heals all wounds
    The invisible scars that I can still see
    Spiderwebs of blistering nerves
    Deformed feet, twisted lips, bloodied eyelids
    I walk with a limp, my voice is hoarse
    But, when I hold your hand
    I am whole.


    Carrie Goff, BBA is an aspiring writer who loves to connect with kindred spirits through words. It is her passion to advocate for the voiceless and forgotten. This poem is dedicated to the women who have escaped abuse and found true love, but do not have the words to express what it means to them. And, dedicated to the men who love them.


    This blog post was curated and/or edited by The Ardent Reader, Esther Hofknecht Curtis, BSOL, MSM-HCA. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the guest blogger. Visit Esther's page at for more information.

    Wednesday, May 30, 2018

    When it’s Time to Change by Stephen Moegling (Guest Blogger)

    Your job. The relationship that’s a dead end. That boss who seems to delight in your suffering. Stepping on the scale and seeing the number go up, not down. When it’s time to change, our minds often need to catch up to our hearts. Our minds like to be practical. We come up with loads of reasons why now isn’t the right time to change. But we have to change. I’ve learned the hard way that change is hard. In the last five years, I’ve lost 70 pounds. Gotten a divorce. Gotten remarried. Sold the shares of a company where I was an owner and had worked at for 18 years. Then joined a new company 1,300 miles from my home. That’s a whole lot of change, not including losing my father to cancer and also grieving the loss of my mother-in-law. Change can be chaotic, messy, and stressful. I’ve also learned that change can be transformational. I want to share with you five steps for making lasting change that can help you with the changes you seek, with as few setbacks as possible. Step 1. Write down what you don’t want. Most of us don’t know exactly what we want from our change. For example, when I set out to lose weight, I didn’t know I wanted to lose 70 pounds. I just knew I needed to get healthier. Only later in my journey, as I got more experience and clarity with my physical health I had clarity on the weight and body composition I wanted. That’s why I recommend starting by writing down the things you don’t want in your life. You’re acutely aware already of what you don’t want, hence your soul’s encouragement to change. Later on, you’ll have more clarity to name the things you do want for yourself, including the feelings you want to experience. Step 2. Name the feelings you want to experience more. We do things for the feelings we want to experience. As you reinvent your life with the changes you seek to make, name those feelings you want to experience more often, such as:
    • Feelings of peace, hope, equanimity
    • Feelings of joy, gratitude, happiness
    • Feelings of confidence, security, ambition

    Use these feelings and states as guideposts for your decision-making and the process of working through your changes. Step 3. When you have a setback, have a meeting with yourself. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life and I have failed, failed, failed so many times. I used to beat myself up when I ordered the pizza instead of kale salad when I am working to change my scale weight. But beating ourselves up makes changing so much more difficult, if not impossible. Now when I fail, I call a meeting with myself. I invite my higher self (the wise, long-term thinker part of me) to have a meeting with the part of me that keeps getting in my own way. The meeting often goes like this: Higher Self Stephen: “Hey friend. You know that drinking a bottle of wine by yourself isn’t going to help you lose weight.” Lower Self Stephen: “Yeah, you’re right. But it was a Friday night. The weather was awesome. And I just kept pouring myself another glass of Cab until I realized I had drained the bottle.” Higher Self Stephen: “If you keep doing that, will you achieve your weight loss goals?” Lower Self Stephen: “No…” Higher Self Stephen: “So…” Lower Self Stephen: “Okay, wiser version of myself. No wine until I hit my weight loss goals.” Higher Self Stephen: “And…” Lower Self Stephen: “And after that, I’ll assign myself one drinking pass every month. That way I can enjoy my Cab without turning an occasional night of fun into a consistent pattern.” Higher Self Stephen: “Good strategy, dude.” Step 4. Learn and share with others. As much as I try to learn from my wiser, higher self, I know I’m toast if I only seek counsel from myself. For any meaningful change to stick, I have to seek the counsel of others who have faced similar challenges and succeeded. I also have to have a support system to share my feelings. As you change and transform yourself, you will someday be a support to others who seek change. Step 5. The final step is to take a step. Momentum is what powers our souls. Get early wins by taking small steps, one at a time. And the farther down the path we go, the clearer the path to transformation appears. “Before” and “After” photos are inspiring but deceiving. Between those photos is a whole lot of messy stuff. But in that messy stuff lies transformation.


    Stephen helps people to grow their businesses and live abundant lives. In his career, he has helped his clients to achieve $1 billion in revenue. Stephen works for Hailey Sault, a healthcare marketing and branding firm with offices in Duluth, Manhattan, and Richmond. Stephen writes a Friday email series called “Pass the Wine” to share insights and strategies for having abundant businesses and living an abundant life. Sign up here.


    This blog post was curated and/or edited by The Ardent Reader, Esther Hofknecht Curtis, BSOL, MSM-HCA. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the guest blogger. Visit Esther's page at for more information.

    Tuesday, May 29, 2018

    The Politics of Color by Elizabeth Ruediger (Guest Blogger)

    The politics of color. Sure, the first thing that comes to mind is black and white referencing our nation’s great racial divide, or maybe even blue and red by party affiliation . But what about pink and green? I’m talking about the women and the vets.

    There is a wave sweeping across the land and it is not the color of deep sea glass. It is the rising tide of women who are standing up and stepping into politics in numbers: the pink tsunami.

    If there is anything the current presidential administration and congressional seat warmers have ushered in is a counter insurgency into the historic oppression of a woman’s ability to be successfully elected and represent a constituency that is equal, if not greater than, the number of men in our general population.

    Future female leaders are fearlessly making their mark in the political world from the first Black woman to win a gubernatorial primary in Georgia to the first openly gay Latina candidate taking a primary win in Texas. Congratulations to Stacey Abrams, Lupe Valdez, Lizzie Fletcher, and Amy McGrath who were forces to be reckoned with in deep, red states, hence the only “deep states” in existence.

    Women who were once men are taking a transgender perspective to the ballot box like never before. In an interview with, Vermont gubernatorial hopeful Christine Hallquist is setting her eye on the prize in Montpelier. “Having lived as both a man as a woman gives her a different perspective,” Hallquist said, “I have a unique experience with women’s issues,” Hallquist said. “As a male I was not aware, unfortunately, of the gender hierarchy.”

    According to an article published in The Christian Science Monitor, “An estimated 40 transgender candidates plan to run for office in the upcoming midterm elections, signaling a tidal shift in LGBT representation in government. Many candidates cite what they see as anti-LGBT policies from the White House as motivation to run.”

    Alexandria Chandler of Massachusetts and Chelsea Manning of Maryland cross this deep divide from two fronts. They are not only transgender, but former military officers. In her interview with the CSM, Chandler stated, “The real simplistic answer to why I'm running: It's to answer a call. It's to a answer a call to service like I did after 9/11.” In reality, gay representation in elected positions has been on the uptick for several years, however, transgender status in state houses and in congress was a dramatic political revelation, if not revolution, in 2017 with 8 seats filled. Chelsea Manning, as you may recall, was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for violation of the Espionage Act by providing WikiLeaks with thousands of classified documents, only to have her sentence commuted to seven years by President Obama. Manning may or may not be your flavor of candidate, but it takes rocks to run a political campaign, especially when your rocks are now a pretty, heart shaped box.

    But at the ballot box, does the absent enthusiasm of male dominance matter? Not when you have the likes of Pennsylvania’s newest congressman, Conor Lamb, congressional candidate, Randy Bryce of Wisconsin, and gubernatorial candidate, Adam Cote of Maine. “I’ve seen Adam three times during trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and I will say this, if you are looking for somebody who is a born leader, this is your guy. I’ve seen him literally in action and I think that he is more than cut out for this kind of job… If the Democrats are smart and if they want to win a race, this might just be the way they want to lean.” - Bill Nemitz, Portland Press Herald columnist.

    These men of honor have served their nation in a military capacity and now seek to serve in a political capacity. This transfer of military power from the battlefield to the political playing field is unprecedented in the most unpresidential term of our nation’s history. They have proven themselves as veterans and as Americans, both men and women, and will commit themselves to this nation’s future, as leaders we have already vested in, can bring their experiences to the political arena and score a knockout punch to the status quo with new perspective and vibrant hues for our future. Everyone wants change, here is hope.

    It’s a brave new world.


    Elizabeth Ruediger is a self-described “force to be reckoned with," independent, political junkie, former elected official and uber fresh blog writer.


    This blog post was curated and/or edited by The Ardent Reader, Esther Hofknecht Curtis, BSOL, MSM-HCA. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the guest blogger. Visit Esther's page at for more information.

    Monday, May 28, 2018

    Letting Go by Daniel Marelli, MD (Guest Blogger)

    Yoga practice helps me to let go of things that restrict me. Thoughts drift in and out of my mind freely. We speak of forgiving ourselves for mistakes or flaws that we are working on. Sometimes we explore our afflictions, together as a group without necessarily sharing specifics. We lift off into Warrior III and discover that by letting go of one position we gain new perspective.

    The physical sensations remind me to stay in the moment and focus on my body. Some of the forms such as Pigeon, involve a slight discomfort. This enables courage and self-confidence while strengthening self-compassion. The discomfort is adjustable. It helps me build resilience in my everyday life.

    Today we are children of freedom
    This is the bread of our affliction
    Let all those who are hungry come celebrate with us

    As far as I can remember into my childhood, these words initiate the new spring season for my family. We tell the story of how our ancestors became free of servitude and gained their identity. We say that each generation must feel this transition. This has not changed for centuries.

    One of the most difficult afflictions to let go of is the mindset of victimhood when a set of circumstances or a person has altered our journey or done us wrong. I became aware of this recently reading a book titled Advice not Given by Mark Epstein. A past trauma cannot always be erased. Rather than forcefully trying to delete a previous affliction, we could try to relate to it differently.

    This recalled two personal events after which I had to find a way to let go.

    The first occurred in my early teen years when my father died. I felt shame at school, always hoping to keep it a secret. Over the next decade I had dreams that he went off on a secret mission in the cold war and was returning. The dreams eventually formed an image in which he was out of place. The scar faded.

    Today I speak freely of my father to my children. I try to inspire them with his love for all things art and architecture. We have some of his paintings on our walls. I have come to appreciate the personal and physical attributes he passed on to me. Most of all, I am grateful for the time I had with him.

    The second event occurred more recently. I left my first professional job in Los Angeles in 2002. I knew it had been a bad situation for me, but I was stuck in the mindset of ‘quitters never win and winners never quit.’ I had an essential role within the team, and I was uniquely good at it. I was unable to let go because I had not yet defined the toxic environment. Was this essential? Not really, but for me it was. I felt like I had not done my best to make it work. Over the next couple of years, at every national meeting, my colleagues were all advising me that I belonged there.

    Then in 2006 I went back to Los Angeles; to my old position. It was new management with the promise that all would be different. Of course, nothing had really changed, except me. Very quickly I resumed leadership of my former crew, but it was not the role I wanted. I realized that I had grown beyond the setting I was in. I started to understand that previously, my superiors had never been concerned with my development.

    I now had a different perspective which unmasked all the imperfections that I had not seen in the past. I had never imagined this could be possible. After about six months I began to look for a new position. I became depressed. The traveling, explaining my difficulty at every interview, and my feeling of failure all weighed me down.

    During an airport layover, I purchased a self-help book. I saved it for my office shelf. Thankfully, about a year later I relocated to Dover and resumed my journey.

    I picked the book off my office shelf a few months ago. In it, I found the note pictured below …

    To Daniel, 

    Fire back, one bad decision is less than 10% of all the good ones. The solution to pollution is dilution.



    Daniel Marelli is a heart surgeon in Dover Delaware. Prior to settling in the mid Atlantic he lived in Morocco , in Canada as well as in California. He is fluent in English, French, and Hebrew. He has a lifelong appreciation for literature and art and enjoys skiing. More recently, he has taken up yoga practice. 


    This blog post was curated and/or edited by The Ardent Reader, Esther Hofknecht Curtis, BSOL, MSM-HCA. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the guest blogger. Visit Esther's page at for more information.

    Sunday, May 27, 2018

    Real Hope and Change by Ed Hofknecht (Guest Blogger) (Esther's Brother)

    Ed and Taniqua at a Hope
    Children's Home fundraiser
    with a 1920s theme
    When my sister asked me to write for her blog, I felt extremely honored that she would think of me. That’s precisely how I should be starting this blog post, but the truth is I am a last minute fill-in and had to offer my literary services as I was not even considered. ;)

    I loved the idea of guest bloggers and thought this might be an opportunity to share my Beast writing skills with the world! I offered and there was a drop-out so I jumped at the chance. Thanks, Esther, for the vote of confidence, love you!

    I have been reading along this month and have really enjoyed the pieces shared. I especially enjoyed my mother’s origami story. Because I never quite understood why she was so interested in paper folding, this back story shed some light on a part of my mother’s life that otherwise I may have never known.

    I would like to tell a short story of how my life has been changed over the past few years. Seven years ago my wife and I were living a basically normal life. We were relative newlyweds, first time parents, and first time home buyers. Our jobs had plenty of upward mobility and promised comfortable salaries in the upcoming years. It seemed we were at the cusp of being able to fulfill the American dream.

    Something was missing though; I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but could tell it wasn’t there. With this feeling in mind we decided that a change was necessary and indicated that to our bosses. In one year’s time, Taniqua (my lovely wife) would become a stay-at-home-mom, and I would look for work with a larger salary and better benefits. Little did we know, God had other plans for us.

    At the time we were attending Cornerstone Baptist Church in Crossville Tennessee, which is an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church. For those of you who don’t speak church, that means we are not affiliated with any larger church organization, and we believe the Bible is the infallible word of God. There are IFBC churches all over the United States, and we send missionaries to all corners of the globe to reach the world for Christ.

    Once a year our church holds a missions conference where we spotlight a few potential missionaries and decide whether we will support their mission. That year my schedule was in such a way that I was able to attend one night of the conference.

    That night I heard a man preach about how little the average Christian was actually doing for the Lord. This hit me hard, and reminded me of a time years prior when I had a heard a preacher say that if God called someone to work in his service, any other life would amount to nothing more than a miserable existence. I headed to the altar and prayed God would use me any way he saw fit and give me the boldness to follow his plan.

    That evening, I could tell that Taniqua had been affected by the sermon as well. As we drove home in silence, I could not stop thinking about the prayer I had offered up and the magnitude of what I had agreed to do.

    We were nearly home when I looked over at my wife and said, “I think we are supposed to be missionaries.” She smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen and said, “Good! I thought it was just me being crazy again!” She then told me of a place in Tampa, Florida called Hope Children’s Home. As soon as we got home, we laid the baby down and pulled up their website. There were videos that told the story of the home’s beginnings, its mission “to rescue the next generation” and their needs. Then I clicked a tab that said, Positions Available. 

    To make a long story short, in less than a year, we sold nearly everything we owned, paid off all our debt besides our house, and moved nearly 700 miles away from home. We were hired to be boys’ dorm houseparents, a position that involves the day to day care of boys from all walks life.

    We have been in this position for six years now and have seen incredible things happen. I have seen firsthand as lives changed in dramatic ways. Little children living in the woods with no bed to sleep on, no meals to look forward to, no life at all speak of, come here and find a place to call home. I’ve seen children so neglected and abused that they can’t even smile or play, and they turn into some of the happiest kids on the planet. I’ve watched as boys grow into men and start their lives in a way that would never have been possible without Hope.

    The changes here are incredible but the biggest change I have seen is what God has done in my life. I am in no way perfect, but my way of thinking has been drastically altered. I see God’s grace and mercy everywhere, and I know that He will provide for us when we follow Him. He has taken the selfish, prideful, unforgiving boy that I once was and changed me into a man that understands that but for the grace of God I could be in a situation worse than any of those that come here for help. He has shown me that through prayer and faith, incredible things can be done.

    Realizing that this has gone long I want you to know the biggest change I have seen in my life. God has given me a compassion that was once foreign to me. I read news stories almost daily about parents neglecting or abusing their children in horrific ways. I hear stories of parents using their children for self gain at the expense of the little ones’ innocence. The worst may be those that - rather than ask for help - end the lives of their children because they see no way out.

    After hearing these, I always find myself asking why? Why couldn’t we have crossed paths? Why wouldn’t you have brought your children to a place like Hope? Why wouldn’t those parents have just given me a chance to give their little ones a chance to live?

    If you find yourself in such a position where you feel helpless to do right by your child, I beg you to reach out, find help, find someone, and find hope for your little ones. You can access our website or call (813) 961-1214 to learn more.


    This blog post was curated and/or edited by The Ardent Reader, Esther Hofknecht Curtis, BSOL, MSM-HCA. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the guest blogger. Visit Esther's page at for more information.


    Saturday, May 26, 2018

    When a father smirks by Leah Subar (Guest Blogger)

    My father had a smirk. His smirk generally accompanied a statement that accused his subject of being wrong, dishonest, or hypocritical. And the unnerving part was that my father was always right.

    Except regarding my life’s path.

    I was his youngest child and only daughter. When I became Torah-observant, my father was beside himself. He didn’t understand why I had to do it; why change my life and embrace the ancient traditions his grandparents left behind?  Why spend a full year forging new relationships with old texts and those who adhere?

    My decision came not from intellect. It came from my gut, from someplace so deep I couldn’t translate it into words that made sense. I didn’t have reasons; I had feelings. 

    And so his smirk told me I didn’t know what I was doing; that I was making the biggest mistake of my life; that I was too afraid of dorm life and enormous study halls and academic pressure and so… just running away from it all.

    But I knew my father loved me. It was the way he held my hand; the cadence in his voice when he called my name.

    And his love followed me everywhere -- including over the ocean where I eventually set up my home in Israel. But his smirk followed me as well; I was a chronic self-doubter. 

    When my youngest child started nursery school I went back to school, too. Eventually, I entered a graduate program and became a dance/movement psychotherapist. Naturally, I shared my career decision with my father -- but not with enough time to fully describe my dream because as it turned out, my father was quite sick. I lost him one week before orientation day.

    As a dance therapist, I pay attention to the body -- and especially how the way we hold our bodies contradicts the words we say, or adds a certain nuance. I have a client, for example, who sometimes flicks her nose with her index finger in such a way that seems out of place in sessions and in her real life. After reviewing the videos of our sessions and doing collaborative work with my client, we discovered she flicks her nose whenever she feels threatened; anytime she feels pushed out of her comfort zone. 

    And because I video most sessions, not only do I learn about my clients’ use of body -- I learn about my own. 

    I discovered I smirk. 

    The first time I saw this I was shocked. I recognized that face; it was his. But it was mine. 

    I studied more videos  I didn’t smirk with every client; mostly, my smirk surfaced during sessions with one particular client. She was my most challenging one; the one who stretched me to my limits; who forced me to stay on my toes and keep calm; the client who caught all my contradictions and made me wonder why I ever thought I could do this. 

    But the precise moment the smirk escaped was usually after I'd made a subtle yet astute comment that served to shake up my client's reality. I smirked whenever I felt I'd come on too strong. My normal expression would disappear and the smirk came to lighten the effect. It came when I wanted her to get my message, but didn't want it to hurt. 

    Not every smirk comes to soften; each gesture is delivered within its own context, depending on its owner. But in those moments that I tracked my own smirk and felt it in my own body, I knew something about my father.

    I knew something about him that nobody else did.


    Leah Subar is a dance/movement therapist in Jerusalem and Petach Tikva, offering one-on-one consultations and ExploreMovement workshops. Leah helps women get back their ZEST by engaging the transformative power of emotions and body experience. Join her list and receive a monthly post about living at your emotional best:


    This blog post was curated and/or edited by The Ardent Reader, Esther Hofknecht Curtis, BSOL, MSM-HCA. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the guest blogger. Visit Esther's page at for more information.

    Friday, May 25, 2018

    How Arté Lives On Washington Street by Bill McCool (Guest Blogger)

    Bill McCool
    My friend Arté lives in an apartment on Washington Street. I have known him since he was three years old. Today, he is in his mid-thirties. He lives in a spacious apartment, has a job he enjoys, goes out to the movies and shopping, listens to music, and is greatly loved by family and friends. None of this sounds unusual.

    Everyone I know who knows Arté will comment about his smile. When his face lights up, you light up too. During the summer, he volunteers at a camp for children with and without disabilities. He attended the camp when he was kid. He knows first-hand how important camp is to them. He knows they love the pool, being with their friends, being outside and playing. He loved it too. All of the kids at camp want their picture taken with Arté and his big smile.

    Arté has Cerebral Palsy. He uses a power wheelchair to get around. He cannot stand. He cannot get in and out of his wheelchair or his bed on his own. He cannot use the bathroom on his own. When you realize these things, you might begin to wonder how he does it. Or maybe you don’t realize how significant this is because we see many people with physical disabilities living and working around us every day. It’s so commonplace we might forget to think about how it’s happening.

    When he was in his early twenties, Arté lived in a nursing home that had over fifty residents. The place where he lived was wonderful. The folks living there were mostly younger people with the same types of needs as his. The home had lots of fun activities, it had an accessible pool, and it had transportation so that they could get out and about. The staff helped Arté to get his first job; it was part-time, but Arté loved the job. He still has that job.

    It’s hard to imagine a young man who would go into a nursing home in his twenties and would then live there for the rest of his life. Arté did not want to live there forever, even if it was a great place.

    This is not a story about courage. Arté doesn’t think he has any more courage than anyone else. He is living the life he lives and like everyone else there are good parts and difficult parts.

    This story is about how separate pieces of public policy have come together to enabled Arté to live the good and difficult parts on his own terms.

    Arté talked to our agency staff when he learned that we were renovating as historical home to be an accessible apartment building. He asked to be put on our waiting list. I admit I was a little skeptical, and asked him if he was sure he wanted to do this. He was sure. He was the second person on our list.

    Arté signed a lease and rented an apartment from us. Six year later, he still lives there. He is successful because the planets of his world have somehow come in alignment.

    Our building was made possible because of HUD funding that gave us the most of the capital we needed for its construction. It allowed us to put up a three story building with seven apartments and an elevator. We put in wide doorways, accessible bathrooms with roll-in showers, big living areas, and secure entryways.

    Just as important as the capital, were the rent subsidies that came with the project. Each resident would pay only 30% of their income toward rent; the subsidy would pay the remainder. Arté didn’t have to work full-time to live there. He could keep his part-time job and afford the rent. If he went full-time, his rent would still be 30% of his income. He could keep his employment and still afford the rent.

    Arté would need assistance, but not twenty-four/seven, live-in help. He knew he only needed assistance for particular things at certain times of day. Arté utilized Personal Care Attendants; he needs about four hours a day. He is able to let his attendants into the building and his apartment with remote control door openers. They help him in the mornings to get up, with his personal care, and, in the late evenings, to go back to bed. Arté manages the rest of the day on his own.

    A change in Federal funding has enabled folks like Arté to hire, train, and pay for their own attendants, and to utilize those attendants in their home. He would longer have to be in a nursing home to get assistance. Arté is in charge; he sets his own schedule.

    Most of us did not know that federal capital to build accessible living spaces, rent subsidies, attendant services were lining up and creating new possibilities for people with disabilities. Most of us don’t know how these things work together, so we might be unaware of how Arté came to live and work alongside us.

    Arté fully knows how it works because he is now able to live on Washington Street, the way he wants to live.


    Bill McCool has been the Executive Director of United Cerebral Palsy of Delaware, Inc. (UCP) for over 30 years. He and his wife Kathy live in Wilmington. They have two sons. 


    This blog post was curated and/or edited by The Ardent Reader, Esther Hofknecht Curtis, BSOL, MSM-HCA. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the guest blogger. Visit Esther's page at for more information.