The Mothers: A Poem and a Book Giveaway



A poem by Barbara Crooker


We gathered to give a baby shower

in absentia for the yet-to-be-born,

two-thousand-miles-away first grandson

of a friend whose youngest child died

binge drinking. Grief, the uninvited guest,

squeezed in, sat down on the sofa. But we oohed

and aahed at the tiny sweaters, booties, rattles, bonnets.

We know the end of the story,

but we love the beginning anyway.

We filled our china plates with shrimp,

broccoli quiche, cream puffs, lemon squares,

talked about our grown children

and the one who wasn’t there.


Later, at the art museum,

two Vietnamese children from the family

sponsored by our church were chosen

for the Emerging Masters’ Recital,

Paul on cello, Angela on violin.

I sat next to my friend Kathy,

and we remembered our work—

me teaching English as a Second Language,

she negotiating Social Services—and how if we knew

how hard it was going to be, we’d have never signed up.

But aren’t we all refugees, searching for our lives,

and don’t we all become orphans in the end?


And now I’m at the university, seeing

The Vagina Monologues,” where my red-

headed middle daughter is playing a black

homeless lesbian, and where I am so lost

in the power of the words, for a short while

I forget who she is, shining in her cherry taffeta

prom dress from Goodwill. At the end, the play shifts

from the sexual to the sacred, the opening between

two worlds, the way we all came in, part of the wheel,

the hoop, the great turning.

Barbara writes about “The Mothers: “This poem ties together some of the themes in Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems: the mother/child connection, the poems in the last section on the loss of a child (echoing back to poems in the beginning of the book, the loss of my first daughter shortly before birth), the poems in Obbligato (one of the chapbooks that make up the Selected) about teaching ESL to Vietnamese refugees, and some poems not in this collection about my red-haired daughter, who had a traumatic brain injury/horse accident at 18, and who nearly didn’t get to go to college (she’s the one acting in the Vagina Monologues in stanza III).


Barbara Crooker Selected Poems

“The Mothers” is featured in Barbara’s latest book, Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems. The publisher, FutureCycle Press writes, “This collection brings together 102 poems from Barbara Crooker’s previous ten chapbooks of poetry, two of which won national prizes, with a handful of uncollected poems at the end.”  Here’s the Amazon link.

Giveaway: For a chance to win a copy of Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems, simply enter a comment by May 20 saying you’d like to win. U.S. only. Thanks! Comment link can be found at the bottom of the post.

Barbara Crooker’s poems have appeared in magazines such as The Green Mountains Review, Poet Lore, The Hollins Critic, The Christian Science Monitor, and Nimrod, and anthologies such as The Bedford Introduction to Literature.

Her awards include the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships; fifteen residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; a residency at the Moulin à Nef, Auvillar, France; and a residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland.

Barbara’s books are Radiance, which won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance (Word Press 2008), which won the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence; More (C&R Press 2010); Gold (Cascade Books, 2013); Small Rain (Purple Flag Press, 2014); and Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2015).

Her poetry has been read on the BBC, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company), and by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac, and she’s read in the Poetry at  Noon series at the Library of Congress. Learn more about Barbara at her website.

Photo: Barbara, her daughter Becky, and grandson Reilly.

My Cancer Story: Clinical Trials


Shortly after I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, I received a letter from UNC Hospital inviting me to participate in clinical research trials. At my pre-surgery appointment a week later, here’s what I said yes to:

  • I agreed to have my tissue sent to a cancer tissue bank. I like knowing that those nasty cells may help find a cure down the road.
  • I allowed my surgeon to inject dye to detect further cancer in my lymph nodes. This dye is now used effectively in breast cancer patients but has not yet been approved for endometrial cancer surgery. My surgeon told Cliff afterwards that the dye enabled her to more quickly figure out that my cancer hadn’t spread. Yes!
  •  I said okay to participating in a study that accessed my quality of life before and after surgery.  I answered questions on my happiness levels in lots of categories (and I love happiness research!). Some of the questions would have made me blush had I been speaking in person to the young man asking them. Luckily, these were phone interviews. I ended up with forty dollars worth of gift cards from Walmart. I spent my gift cards with gusto, although I can’t remember what I bought. (Some clinical trials offer monetary or other compensation; most do not.)
  • The last study will measure my legs over a two-year period. I’m at danger for lymphedema as a result of the lymph node removal. The measurements assess leg swelling. The disease sounds awful (and doesn’t come on until at least a year post-surgery). The photo below makes me look like a long giant, which I am not, I promise.

Here’s Katie, the darling research nurse heading up the study. I’m one of 75 women participating.


Blog reader Cheryl, a clinical research coordinator at a local medical center, is pleased I agreed to participate in clinical trials. I asked her to send us a few lines explaining their importance.

Cheryl writes: Clinical trials are the only way we can move forward with treating cancer. Studies can be as simple as observation or questionnaires about your symptoms. Some trials take an agent already approved for a disease and modify the treatment time or frequency to see if it’s as effective as the approved regimen, while others introduce a completely new agent to tackle the disease in a different way than the current standard. The clinical trials that are active now shape the standard treatment one, two or ten years from now. They can help the patient make it to the next milestone in life:  a birth, a graduation, a wedding, another birthday, remission, recovery…. or in some cases, to the next available clinical trial. You’ll never be pressured into joining a clinical trial, and can withdraw from a study at any time. Trials may or may not help your condition, but they could help someone you know in future.

Me again: I was happy to agree to the trials. Had they involved multiple trips to the hospital or experimental drugs, I might have declined. These clinical trials were easy and interesting to do, and they lifted my spirits as they gave deeper purpose to my cancer experience.

What about you? Have any of you had good or bad experiences participating in clinical medical trials? Do tell!

Experience 2015: Corn Snake!


Snake in HandOkay, granted he is a small snake.

Granted he was handed to me by a trained naturalist.

Granted I knew he wouldn’t bite


I still, for the first time in my life, held a snake!

His name is Ricky. (Lucy escaped, never to be found again.)

He’s a corn snake, and he lives in the enviromental building at the Bald Head Island Conservancy.

Here are my three thoughts on holding the snake:

  • This item is now off my bucket list. Although if holding a snake is on my bucket list, it makes me wonder if my bucket list needs revising.
  • I like that I stepped up, and in an instant, gathered the courage to do something that’s scary to me. Hope I can do more scary things.
  • Ricky didn’t feel like I expected he would. There was not a hint of slime, and he seemed solid, as if he were happy and confident in his own snake self.

I don’t think I’d be brave enough to reach my hand into Ricky’s cage and pick him up myself. The road to snake handler, for me, would be a long, terrifying one. But I’m now, for the first time in my life, thinking sweet, fond thoughts about a snake. Thanks, Ricky! (And thanks to Emily, our excellent tour guide).

What about you? Is snake handling on your bucket list or are you already a pro?

Want to learn more about corn snakes? Sure you do! Here’s some info from the National Zoo.

Check out this theory on why many humans fear snakes.

Mindfullness and Menopause



A post by mindfulness instructor Paula Huffman:

As you may have noticed lately, the word mindfulness is getting tossed around a lot! Is there something to this concept of Mindfulness or is it just another trend? And, you might ask yourself, “What is Mindfulness? What does that mean?”

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Pain Management program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center began developing what he called “Mindfulness programs” back in the early 70’s to help people with chronic pain. The methods were so successful that programs flourished and began to be used to help clients with all sorts of issues from chronic physical and mental illness to everyday stress! Now these programs are available world wide! Kabat- Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of awareness. When practicing Mindfulness, we are making a conscious effort to remain aware of what is going on right now! We work on moving out of Auto Pilot and start to live life again!

Mindfulness wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. It provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck and back in touch with our own wisdom and vitality. Through the Mindfulness practices, we can learn to identify stress triggers and stress indicators. We practice bringing awareness to thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations while they are happening. Learning the Mindfulness practices can help you to manage stress by allowing you to function from a calmer baseline, manage catastrophic thinking, and choose to respond skillfully to difficult events in your life.

Mindfulness is not a religious practice. Mindfulness classes are educational experiences and not group therapy. Through mindfulness classes you will learn practices such as Mindful Eating, Mindful Breathing, Seated Meditation with attention to the breath, Walking meditation, Mindful Movement, and Loving Kindness Meditation.

As with many concepts that become more popular, the pure essence of those concepts can become diluted. In some cases, the word mindfulness or mindful may be added to something so it will sound enticing and sometimes the concepts are not really being used or taught with a full intention or from a sound knowledge base. As Jon Kaba- Zinn developed his programs, he made sure to say that Mindfulness is taught to others from the experience on one’s own practice.

Practicing Mindfulness during the menopause years can help you learn to cope with and diminish many of the common health issues and discomforts such as weight gain, insomnia, fatigue, increased reactivity, mood swings, and more that are often related to this time of life. Learn how to cope with stress and other symptoms by using mindfulness practices such as Mindful Breathing, the Breathing Space to Step out of Auto Pilot, Seated Meditation, Mindful Movement, and Loving Kindness Meditation.. 

For those who live near Hillsborough, North Carolina, Paula is offering a series on menopause and mindfullness. Here’s the scoop:

Managing Menopause the Mindfulness Way 

Upcoming Introductory Series…

Menopause Symptoms Making you Feel a Little Wild?


6 Weeks starting May 13th

9-11 a.m.
$150 for the series

Location: Carolina Wellness Institute
121 W Margaret Lane  Hillsborough, NC

919 260 0255

Practicing Mindfulness during the menopause years can help you learn to cope with and diminish many of the common health issues and discomforts related to this time of life.

Common symptoms associated with menopause might include:
– Weight Gain
– Sleep Issues
– Hot/Cold Flashes
– Fatigue
– Increased Blood Pressure
– Urinary Urgency and Incontinence
– Generalized Muscle Aches
– Increased Reactivity and Mood Swings

Want to learn how Mindfulness and other holistic practices can help? Each session will include:
• Presentation and group discussion on a Mindfulness theme related to menopause
• Stress management through identification of stress triggers and indicators, thought, emotion and physical sensation awareness.
• Learning how to step out of auto pilot and live your life!!
• Introduction and experience of Mindfulness Practices including Mindful Eating, Mindful Breathing, Seated Meditation with Attention to the Breath, Mindful Walking, Mindful Movement and Loving Kindness Meditation.
• Discussion on home practice and how things are going
• Bonus of topics related to the physiology behind the symptoms, complementary and alternative therapies including nutrition and herbal support, acupuncture and more.  These topics will be presented by licensed practitioners who provide women’s health services.

Facilitated by Paula Huffman BS, RN, ERYT, Mindfulness Instructor

Paula (in the photo at top) has been a Yoga and Meditation practitioner for close to 25 years. She is a Registered Nurse and certified Yoga Instructor. Paula completed studies in leading Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Pain Management programs with Jon Kabat Zinn and the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical Center on two separate occasions. She has been teaching Mindfulness classes for 6 years classes with the Program on Integrative Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill. Please feel free to contact Paula for information or questions on these programs: