Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Blink Book Review #2: "Life in Five Senses" by Gretchen Rubin

Is there anything that we take for granted more than the power of our five senses? Gretchen Rubin’s new book, “Life in Five Senses, How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World,” stunned me out of complacency. It reminded me about the riches we overlook daily because we fail to pay full attention to what we are seeing, tasting, touching, smelling and hearing.

Gretchen studies the five senses through the lens of connectivity to the world around us – a simple premise – but likely something most people easily forget to appreciate. By overlaying art, literature, food, science, family and the natural world, Gretchen chronicles her personal sensory exploration. A reader can choose to ride along on her journey or use her journey to plot their own path. I did a little of both.

The author responds to a potentially life-changing medical issue as a jolt to examine the power of her own senses. Her research includes enough scientific data to be credible, but not boring, for a general audience. But a good bit of what she investigates is experiential. She primes her senses by experimenting with a perfume class, a restaurant that serves diners who are wearing blindfolds, and a sensory deprivation chamber, among other experiences.

Part of her personal project to learn more about her senses was setting a goal to visit the same place every day for a year. She chose the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course, most people don’t live walking distance from the Met like Gretchen does, but she ties in all five senses to her daily visits. These adventures allow the museum to be not only a place to look at art, but also a place to practice observation and retrain her senses.

While reading this book, I set out on a mundane errand to buy new bathmats. I normally like a very sensible towel-like bathmat with sticky stuff on the back. But when I touched one that felt like soft puppy fur, I had a visceral reaction. I bought it. A small thing, but a perfect example of how paying attention to my senses prompted me to buy something simple (and relatively inexpensive) that gives me a joy jolt every time I walk in the bathroom. This book is full of Gretchen’s practical examples like this that can help readers retrain how they experience the world.

I checked out the book from the library to put in my beach stack. But by the time I’d finished the first chapter, I knew that had been a mistake. I had to own that book (I bought it at Litchfield Books as a shout out to local bookstores). It’s now got turned-down pages and multi-colored highlights throughout marking ideas I want to remember, passages I want to go back and re-read, and suggestions for my own experiments. 

I'm taking on one of Gretchen's activities this summer by developing my own Five Senses Self-Portrait. I'll be adding to it regularly.

Of all my favorite marked-up passages in this book, this one take-away I will long remember: "The word listen is just a rearrangement of the word silent."

In 2022, I set out to get off the screens and back to books for the summer. I set a goal of reading a book a week. My accountability was writing short Blink Book Reviews (so short you can read them in a blink). This review is the first of the 2023 summer series. Join Blink Book Review Facebook group to follow along this summer.

An Experiment: The Five Senses Self Portrait

One of the interesting exercises in "Life in Five Senses" is creating a "Five Senses Self-Portrait." As part of my personal accountability to pay better attention through my senses, I'm sharing my self portrait that I'm updating regularly.


  • The stillness of the ocean, the lake, any large body of water
  • My weekly flower arrangements especially when I pop in the ceramic flowers bought on a trip to Germany

  • A bright blue sky
  • The vivid colors of sunset over water
  • Big dogs running and chasing balls on the beach
  • My yellow bike


  • My dog’s toenails tapping through the house on the hardwood floors
  • The barred owls in my neighborhood at night
  • Neighborhood kids playing outside on a summer afternoon
  • The deep resonant strum from a single acoustic guitar
  • The natural sounds of my neighborhood as I take a walk without earbuds.
  • Early morning chirping birds outside my window
  • The laughter and music of my Sip N Strummers
  • '70s music playing in a random place


  • Dark chocolate mousse followed by a sip of dry white wine
  • Saltiness of the perfect raw oyster
  • My first sip of perfectly balanced half/half tea in the morning
  • The tanginess of Kraft Italian dressing on a Labraskas cheese salad


  • My new bathmat that feels like puppy fur
  • Wind on my face speeding down a hill on my bike
  • Sand under my feet during a beach walk
  • High quality paper of a print project
  • The soft spot behind my dog’s ears


  • Lavender in a yoga studio (although incense will kill that buzz immediately)
  • Gardenias (live not artificial)
  • A bookstore
  • Fresh cut grass
  • The first scent of the ocean as I head to the beach
  • The various smells that occur on a drive with the top down on my car – cut grass, manure, road construction, confederate jasmine 
  • Almond extract
  • Labraskas Pizza that reminds me of high school
  • A print project fresh from the printer’s press


Sunday, May 21, 2023

Blink Book Review #1: The Art of Calm by Roger Hutchison

My normal reading habits lean toward the elements of a well-balanced diet. I like to have several books going at once wanting each to supply me with something different.

I like to have one book that teaches me something, one that entertains, and one that’s just “junk food” reading. But recently I found myself with three “teachable” books going at once (stay tuned for reviews of the other two). It was unintentional, but so interesting to find these three books were perfectly aligned to read in tandem. They all pointed me strongly toward similar types of practices carried out in different ways to increase my capacity to be present to the wonder of my daily world.

Roger Hutchison’s recently released book “The Art of Calm” is the perfect mix of thought-provoking, easy reading, insightful and practical helping bring new awareness to our daily lives. Roger is a former Columbia resident, and I knew him many years ago when he was on the staff at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia. He and his family now live in Houston where he is an author and artist and serves at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. This is Roger’s ninth book published shortly after the release of his most recent children’s book, “Sparrow's Prayer.”

The book is structured around Roger’s journey following a mental health crisis in 2017 that left him unsure of how to navigate a world that included this diagnosis. “The Art of Calm” shares many of the tools Roger developed on his path to the peace he’s found. As he began his journey to reshape his life around the mental illness diagnosis, Roger says in the book’s introduction that he “began to pay attention to the world in a new and more intimate way.” And this book is kind of an instruction manual on how to do that.

Through 31 short and very readable chapters, Roger offers up his own story overlaid with life lessons helpful to both those struggling with mental health issues and to those who are just seeking to be more present in their daily lives. Each chapter – with titles like “hunger,” “rescue,” “hope,” “awe,” and “truth” – includes an invitation to explore the world in a new way, questions for reflection and a beautiful supplication seeking God’s presence.

There’s a dash of creativity thrown into every chapter’s invitation section, which I particularly loved. And even if you don’t consider yourself a “creative” soul, think again. These gentle invitations include activities like gardening, touching base with old friends, walking and even just sitting in silence.

The title of this book is particularly appropriate focusing on the word “calm.” Every chapter in the book exudes calm. There’s no finger pointing or accusations about people needing to be fixed. The book lays out calm, purposeful pathways acknowledging everyone’s narrative is unique while, at the same time, exploring universal practices of healing.

Stay tuned for Blink Book Reviews of the other two books.

Roger will be reading from both of his books at Columbia's wonderful new indy bookstore, All Good Books, on June 10 at 10 a.m. (Sparrow's Prayer) and 6 p.m. (The Art of Calm).

My summer challenge in 2022 was to get off the screens and back to books. My accountability was to write a dozen-ish short Blink Book Reviews of 300-ish words (short enough to read in a blink). Now we're back for summer 2023. Join my Blink Book Review Facebook group to get the reviews and book suggestions from others.

Friday, May 5, 2023

From diploma to today: 20 lessons shared

USC’s graduation this weekend makes me realize it’s been 40 years since my graduation with the best speaker possible for a journalism school grad – Walter Cronkite!

Several days after graduation, I packed my car heading to DC to start my first job as a Congressional receptionist. In looking back, I tried to remember if I was concerned that my first job mainly involved answering phones, giving tours and driving my boss to the airport. After all, I believed my resume illustrated strong leadership skills, solid job experience and good writing samples (and yes, it was appropriate back then to include age and marital status on a resume).

As best I can remember, I was thrilled with that first job. I knew turnover was high in Congressional offices, and young staffers could move up quickly if given the chance to prove themselves. I had my sights set on being a press secretary, after all.

That newly minted young professional had no idea what was in store for the next 40 years of a winding, yet in retrospect, amazingly aligned career path. I also had no idea of the lessons I’d learn along the way.

A number of years ago, I started a list of those professional life lessons to use in a presentation for a group of college seniors. Since then, I like to revisit and update this list annually as a way to reflect on the past year.

Lessons from diploma to today

Read on for this year’s updated list of career lessons. Hopefully seasoned and new professionals alike will find a nugget or two here.

1. Take risks. Look for the unexpected opportunities. No one can expect perfection. It’s OK to be a beginner. You can often learn more from mistakes than successes. Yes, really, you can.

2. Cultivate strong writing skills. Solid writers are the people strong leaders want around the leadership table with them. Be the one colleagues seek out to flesh out and articulate ideas clearly on paper with accurate spelling, grammar and punctuation. Even if writing isn’t a priority part of your job, be the one on the team who can quickly break down and communicate concepts on paper.

3. Go to your boss with a solution, not a problem. Your boss is solving problems all day. Make her life easier by presenting a solution when you present a problem. Even if it’s not the solution that ultimately solves the problem, presenting an idea for a solution keeps your boss from dreading the sight of you at the door or your number on her phone.

4. Keep up with people. The students you sat next to in class. Your roommates and their friends. Bosses in your entry level college jobs. Lab partners. Professors. The people you met through your campus activities. College deans. They will all have contacts within their professional circles. Stay in touch with them. You never know where a new job contact, sales relationship or your next stellar employee will come from. Every job change I ever made was the result of someone I knew making a connection for me. All of my current Medway Group clients grew out of established relationships. The connection to one of my first clients came from a former intern.

5. Be interested and interesting. Ask good questions and ask them often. Young professionals have a great deal to offer a work environment. Speak up when you have something to offer, but remember to balance your enthusiasm with senior-level colleagues’ experience.

6. Keep learning your craft. Find out what your boss or leaders in your profession are reading or listening to (books, blogs, professional publications, podcasts, websites, etc). Seek out professional development opportunities. Pay for them yourself, if necessary. Join professional organizations and get involved.

7. Be kind and remember that everyone carries their own sack of rocks. You never know what type of personal issues the co-worker who missed a deadline is dealing with at home or with his family.

8. Write thank-you and follow-up notes (handwritten, not emailed). Collect business cards or contact info from people you meet at events, in meetings, or just out and about. A handwritten “nice to meet you” note will set you apart and help people you meet remember you. Technology is good, but the personal touch still matters (along with good penmanship).

9. Travel any chance you get. Travel to small towns and big cities across the country and around the world. Don’t put off travel – use your vacation days. You’ll never tell your grandchildren about that great trip you didn’t take because you were too busy at work.

10. Plan the work before you work the plan. Having no plan gets you nowhere. Plans will change either by force or circumstance. Be flexible, but have a plan regardless of whether it’s a work project, a trip, a job search, a major purchase or an important life decision.

11. Looking busy doesn’t equal being productive. The co-worker who crows about her heavy workload and long hours is probably much less productive than the one who is organized and prioritizes his days.

12. Be a good listener and observer. It’s an old adage, but true – there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth. Watching and listening to others can bring valuable insights to the words you eventually speak.

13. Stay in the loop, but avoid the gossip. Be a “boundary spanner”— someone who is respected and trusted by people at all levels of the organization. Just don’t be the one who everyone counts on to know “the dirt.”

14. Build your financial literacy. Pay yourself first. If you use direct deposit, set up an allocated amount to go to your savings account from each paycheck. If you get the chance to participate in your company’s 401K, do it! Even that smallest contribution early in your career will help you establish good saving and investment habits. Learn the basics of budgeting, saving and investing. Keep your rainy day fund separate from your retirement dollars.

15. Seek out a mentor. I’ve found most mentor relationships happen naturally rather than being established formally. Be on the lookout for them. I bet my best mentors probably don’t know they even served in that role. Also, look for “reverse mentoring” opportunities. You can be a resource to your older colleagues. Seasoned professionals can learn a great deal from their younger peers.

16. A good editor will make you shine. Don’t look at having your writing edited as you would look at a teacher correcting a paper. Editing is a collaborative process, and there’s always room for improvement in your writing.

17. Move during the day. Regardless of whether you have a desk job, use your lap as your desk while sitting on the couch or work outside of a traditional office environment, moving your body and getting your brain engaged in something other than your work is key to sanity and creativity. Walk around the block, stretch once an hour, or put in your earbuds and listen to high energy music.

18. Sharpen your speaking skills. A strong speaking presence doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but practice can help anyone improve. Seek out opportunities to speak up in meetings, identify your pain points, practice in front of a mirror, watch speakers you admire. Learn to be the one in the room who can catch – and keep – people’s attention.

19. Establish your personal brand. Decide what you want your reputation in the workplace to be, and let your actions define you. Keep promises and make deadlines. Under-promise and over-deliver. Avoid behavior in your personal life that could hurt your professional life (even more true today with all the risks of social media in the mix). Remember that details count, especially when getting the details right sets you apart from others.

20. Have fun and be creative. Figure out your own version of work/life balance. The “balance” will probably fluctuate daily, and it most certainly looks different after this COVID experience, but keep focused on creative outlets, exercise and hobbies that let you have fun.

Following my own advice

Over the past couple of years, I’ve realized it’s never too late to follow my own advice while launching into my latest professional adventure as a business owner at The Medway Group.  I’ve connected my love of writing (#2) and editing (#16) with the relationships I’ve developed over my career (#4, 15).

I’ve spent a lot of time evaluating my strengths, identifying opportunities, learning all I could about being an entrepreneur (#6), asking questions and seeking advice (#12), and plotting a plan (#10).

Thanks to insight and advice from many professional colleagues and mentors (#15, 18), I’m now busy helping clients with their writing and editing projects. I’m working with organizations to fine tune their communications planning and staffing. I’m plotting advocacy strategy around legislative issues and leading media training through my work with the Buckley School of Public Speaking.

I’m grateful for the opportunities today that let me share my strengths and do the type of work I enjoy. (Read more about the work The Medway Group is doing.) I’m also making sure not to overlook the importance of that balance we hear so much about (#20) by making time for my music, family, friends, and travel (#9). And I keep sending those hand-written thank you notes (#8).

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Blink Book Review: “It. Goes. So. Fast.: The Year of No Do-Overs” by Mary Louise Kelly

The books I enjoy the most typically sit unfinished with one chapter remaining. They deliciously hang out in my reading stack or on my audiobook list the same way the last bite of my favorite chocolate cookie sits wrapped up on the counter.

I savor the thought of it. I visit it occasionally. I conjure up visions of slowly consuming that last morsel.

“It. Goes. So. Fast.: The Year of No Do-Overs” is one of those books. It sat unfinished in my audiobook app for five days. I just didn’t want it to end.

This book is the memoir of NPR anchor Mary Louise Kelly’s “year of no do-overs” as her 18-year-old son entered his senior year in high school. Her job as the anchor of NPR’s afternoon news show, “All Things Considered,” meant she went on air every weekday at 4 p.m.  - the exact time of her sons’ weekly Monday soccer games. (Her younger son was a high school sophomore at the time and also a soccer player).

Every year, Kelly had told herself, this would be the year that she would make the time to be more present, go to more games, carve out more time with her sons. Every year, when she fell short of this goal, she knew she had many more years ahead for a do-over. Then her first-born became a senior. Kelly realized there would be no more do-overs.

She wrote this book in real time as she lived her son’s senior year through the eyes and the heart of a highly successful, deeply committed news professional who also wanted to make sure her family came first. It’s written in essay-style chapters that connect a reader with compelling first-person storytelling, gut busting humor, and non-judgmental sage advice.

It's obvious from the first chapter that Kelly is more than a radio news host. She writes with the clarity of a skilled newspaper reporter (which she was), the depth of a novelist (which she is) and the heart of a mom (which she will always be).

This audiobook version caused untold “driveway moments” when I had to finish a chapter before getting out of the car. I daily looked forward to riding around town feeling like Mary Louise (we’re on a first name basis by now, of course) was buckled in my passenger seat chatting about her personal experiences as a mom, international public radio correspondent, friend, daughter and wife. Her voice is as familiar as a family member’s (I’m a huge NPR fan girl), so it made for easy listening.

But when I realized I was at the last chapter, I chugged in a big breath. I stopped the audiobook. I wasn’t ready to kick her out of my car.

Through this book, I had traveled with Mary Louise as she interviewed world leaders in Ukraine, Afghanistan and countless international capitals and war zones. I screamed with her as she loudly cheered on her sons at their soccer games she was able to attend. I cried with her when she emotionally detailed the last walk with her ailing father. I’d giggled with her as she detailed the deep connection she maintains with her group of college girlfriends.

So I let it sit for a few days. Then I chose to finish that last chapter while on a solitary walk. I knew that last chapter would contain wisdom, humor and some sage advice. And it did. I belly laughed and I cried.

Then I went to my new local bookstore to buy the hard copy of the book (spoiler alert: All Good Books had already sold out of the book, so I had to order one). That’s what I do when I love an audiobook so much. I need to be able to return to the lovely turns of words and mark up the pages with my favorite passages. Then I share the book with friends. In my world, that’s the highest compliment I can pay a book!

In the summer of 2022, I created my summer reading challenge to get off the screen and back to books by reading a book a week. My accountability was to write a series of Blink Book Reviews of 300ish words so someone could read them in a blink. This is the latest in this occasional ongoing (and sometimes more like two blinks long) series. Join my Blink Book Review Facebook group to get all the reviews and books suggestions from others.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Blink Book Review: Judging a book by its cover

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

That’s one of the many reasons I walked out of Square Books in Oxford, MS, recently with writer and illustrator Maira Kalman’s newest book,“Women Holding Things.” I knew her of art only because one of her paintings depicting a soulful basset hound graced the cover of Strunk and White’s latest edition of “The Elements of Style.” That dog enticed me to upgrade my college-issued version of this grammar book several years ago.

After picking up the display copy of "Women Holding Things" on the bookstore table, I was immediately intrigued by this book’s title and cover art. I flipped the book over to look for the typical reviews or author bio. To my delight, I found only the following quote:

Nothing on the dustcover or the book flaps gives the reader any intel about the author, the artwork or the contents of the book. As I flipped through the pages with sparse words and expressive paintings, I found myself holding this book close without even thinking about what I was doing.

I browsed through pages with artwork that includes women holding the weight of the world, holding hands, holding grudges, holding pearls, holding court, holding true to herself and holding books. I ran my fingers over the substantial texture of the book’s pages and smelled that ink smell that only someone who loves books can detect.

After I thought I’d had my fill of holding this little piece of magic, I returned the book to its place on the table. I browsed a bit. I debated over buying a recent new novel or biography. I considered which box of notecards most matched my mood that day.

I returned to the book. I needed to read more. Kalman’s bare use of language reminded me to spend more time absorbing the vivid artwork. Then the artwork reminded me to think more carefully about what I hold dear and close and accountable and true in my life.

We left the store with this book after my husband bought it for my Easter basket gift.

I read the whole thing on the plane from Memphis to Charlotte.

I’ve read it again – twice.

This isn’t a book you borrow from the library. You must own it to hold onto the experience of running your hands over the pages – urging you to hold it tight in both delight and despair, in both the bigness of the world and the smallness of your life, in both the emotion of Kalman’s beautiful art and the pleasant exhaustion of her everyday words.

In the summer of 2022, I created my summer reading challenge to get off the screen and back to books by reading a book a week. My accountability was to write a series of Blink Book Reviews of 300ish words so someone could read them in a blink. This is the latest in this occasional ongoing series. Join my Blink Book Review Facebook group to get all the reviews and books suggestions from others.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Happy Gotcha Day memorial to our Dixie

Today is the 14th anniversary of our “Gotcha Day” with our much loved Dixie. We had her in our lives for almost ten years.

She loved riding in the convertible, hanging at the beach, sneaking into the kitchen trash can and sleeping on the furniture. But most of all she loved her people.

We miss her every day but she taught us that beloved dogs don’t die, they just give our hearts more room to love another. 

Read my tribute to Dixie here.