Reading & Writing a Life

Carla Pineda's blog

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A Book Review

Dancing in the Narrows: A Mother-Daughter Odyssey Through Chronic Illness by Anna Penenberg

5.0 out of 5 stars

A gripping story of hope, desperation, and tenaciousness of spirit

Reviewed in the United States on July 7, 2020

I loved this book. A single mother and teenage daughter are thrown into a journey for health and healing that they had no idea how they would navigate but they did! I imagined how I would have been had one of my daughters been struck with an illness that defied diagnosis. I found myself on each page with them, riding years of questions, partial answers, wrong information and desperate quests. I cheered them on as they took road trips to find the right doctors or alternative health care providers. I cried with them when they hit another dead end. I prayed for Dana to heal and rejoiced when she was on the way to recovery. And, I cheered for Anna when she embraced her own life again. It is a story of not just a physical healing but of life transformation for Dana and Anna both.

I did not know much if anything about Lyme disease. I knew it came from a tick bite and what the bite might look like. I knew there was a treatment of some sort for it. This book is also informative and educational about this disease. And, around the growing and exciting fields of holistic healing and alternative medicine. A valuable read.

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This Place

I love this quote from the poet Hafiz. Sometimes I don’t like the place where the circle is. Sometimes I love the place where the circle is. Sometimes the place is soft and cushy. Sometimes it is sharp and prickly. Sometimes it is light and joy filled. Sometimes it is dark and depressive. Yet, it is always a place of a lesson.

What lessons have place taught you?

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A Writer

A writer is who I am, not what I do. Writing is a part of my being.

Larraine Herring, in her book, Writing Begins with the Breath says writing helps us be our authentic self.

I miss the page when I do not come to it. I find myself adrift in a sea of letters that form no words, that are a pile of pick up sticks or a box of legos with no organization or sense of style or design.

To write requires calming the spinning spirals in my brain and then stringing them out into coherent sentences and meaning.

My friend, the San Antonio artist, writer, and preacher, Enedina Vasquez, had a group of us do an exercise where we wrote a poem/prayer on a long strand of ribbon. The ribbon I wrote on is pink, for my granddaughter, Clara. It was, if I remember right not long after she was born. I have always kept the ribbon rolled up in a tight ball, placed in a small box. A few days ago I cleared some of the clutter off my bookcase altar. I unwound the ribbon and reread what I had written. To write the poem/prayer was more than an assignment; it was/is who I am.

The ribbon is now in a larger container, a round bowl. It lays there in spaghetti like swirls, almost alive looking, breathing in the spaces between the pink swirls of pink.

I see the energy of the writing I put on it six or so years ago. I walk by the bowl and find myself wanting to fluff the strands or better yet, finding the beginning and running my fingers over the words, reading them silently or outloud, owning and embracing my writer self. Regular and intimately, one more time, I reweave the early days of being Granny to Clara, the way my Granny (Clara) was to me.

The ribbon poem/prayer lays in the bowl, waits for me, and breathes.

The Ribbon

The ribbon in my life…the women…Granny, Minnie, Mother…Women unnamed before them…sisters, daughters, girlfriends…and now…Miss C…How can one little girl tie all the women together?

Be the tiny stacking doll that joins us all? Becoming a grandmother… having a granddaughter…”Let’s go meet your granddaughter” he (my son-i-law) said.

I held her. I already knew her.

The ribbon joined end to end. Connections run deep.

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My 3 sisters and I are having a great time reading the book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee.  The cool thing is that because we live in different places (well, two of us live in San Antonio) we are doing this with a Google Hangout meeting once a week, we have a designated Google document set up to drop in resources and we post on our private WordPress blog.  Wow! Technology for creativity and connection!  I’m loving it!

Check out Ingrid’s webpage:


and here’s a little happy face with a quote from the chapter on Play.


Happy Reading and Writing a Life

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The Gift of Poetry

IMG_3018It’s April. April is National Poetry Month and that has me to thinking about poetry and poetry books I’ve been given as gifts and what a gift poetry is.  I believe that a book of poetry is always an appropriate gift, to be opened and re-opened over time and situation, something new being revealed or perhaps there is comfort in the familiar cadence the words evoke, a comfort forgotten.

Often I forget how much I love poetry and that comfort, the astonishment, and, yes, even the questions it elicits from deep recesses of the mind and heart.  There is something in the rhythmic flow of poetry that settles a runaway mind or brings a smile to the lips.  Or, a tear to the eye.

Read poetry this month, give a poem or a book of poetry as a gift.  Read it out loud to yourself, to a child, or to a friend.  Listen to someone recite their poetry, or read a long loved verse from Rumi or Mary Oliver (or your favorite poet).  Discover a new poet and get to know them.  It is always a good thing!


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Standing at the Page

IMG_2895While reading Mary Oliver I often tend to go into “pondering” mode.  So many of her lines, so rich and juicy, jump out and suspend my pen above the page.

“I Happened to be Standing” is a poem that took me to that place.

Pen in the air, what is it that pulls my pen to the blank page?  What is it that pulls it down to record my grocery list or sketch out random thoughts, catch them in midair and watch them appear like magic on the page?

Pen in the air, diving onto the page, coming up from inside the fibers of the page, or maybe from the fibers of memory, thoughts, questions, or the grocery list that become one with the pen and paper.

“I am the pen writing the page” is a line I recorded in an earlier journal.  Here, in this place, there is no division between me and the pen, the pen just an extension of my fingers, blood to ink, tracing my thoughts onto the blank page.

Standing…Posed…Ready…Attentive…Cat-like focus…Watching my surroundings…Ready to pounce on the page.  Step back…Wait…

I am patient and tuned for a sound that vibrates my pen.

Another Mary Oliver line, “the real poem” draws questions.

Is the “real poem” what gets written down or is it the “standing still with pen in air” waiting? listening?

Perhaps it is both as the written poem is just the finished marker on the journey.  Is there such a word as “poeming”, the verb form of poem?  All of it, the action of writing the poem is as important as the finished poem on the page.

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“Not simply visiting this world”:Sunset & the Owl

“Not simply visiting this world” is a line from Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes.  This last line of this poem resonated deep the morning I read it.  I want to stay awake.  I want to know what I want to do with “my one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver) and how “to live the only life I have”.  (again, Mary Oliver)

Mary Oliver’s poetry inspires me, moves me, rattles my nerves somedays.  Her words vibrate a life energy, let me see things in ways otherwise unseen.  I am still wondering what drew me out to take a picture of the sunset the other evening.  I can see the edge of that time of day out the top of the kitchen window most evenings.  I just note it, go back to the stove or the sink and the sun sets.

But, this evening, something/someone moved me to grab the camera/phone and take several shots. Then and only then, almost as an afterthought, my eyes caught the tree branch and something more.  My first impression…a black garbage bag had blown into the spiny branches, still winter weather bare.

And, then, I saw her (I’ve decided she was a she) with a capital “S” saw her.  Was that really an owl?  Her head turned a slight turn and there were her two little ears, distinct as the sunset was orange and pink.  It was sunset and even though the sky was vivid colors the graying of twilight almost hid her.  She sat and sat, quiet and still, only once lifting herself to the next branch and then still again.

“Do not simply visit this world”….There are messengers, in places, and from voices we miss, right in front of us.  These voices are often quiet,  even silent, not loud, in your face, distracting voices of chaos or distortion.

Visit the world, awake and aware, of these different messengers (voices)….the sunset, the owl, the silence, the moon….

What do they have to say to you?  Who else speaks to you?

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Who Am I?


It is raining and cold on this Saturday afternoon.  Enjoying the stillness and only the sound of the rain I’m wandering through my journals from 2017.  This practice always reveals writings, wanderings, wonderings, questions I have forgotten I have spent time writing onto the page of my journal.

My birthday is in early January so not only is the calendar year coming to a close but a new year starts for me just a few days after the 31st of December.  My journal prompt on the 7th of June, the midpoint of the year, was, simply the word “who”.  I did “give” it a question mark so I suspect I had somewhat of an idea of where my wanderings, wonderings, and questions might lead.

So, here goes….

Who am I?  Who shaped me….parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends…..

Who knew me?  Who took me under a wing?  Influenced me?  So many helped raise me.  Yes, it takes, it took a village.

Who is my village?  Some I will never know.

How can anyone say they are cut out of just a piece of cloth, instead of claiming the rich and varied tapestry of the being they are?

Some of my siblings have been doing some family ancestry lately.  Some unknown “who’s”, a few threads so surprising none of us are sure how it weaves in.

There is an adoption.  There is  a strand of Jewish roots.  We are still not sure where they entwined themselves into our family tree.  So, again, I ask…

Who am I?  It seems the older I get the more there is to know about myself.  There are more layers, threads, strands of me, not tangled but placed into the pattern that only reveals itself in the ongoing weaving.

I am in this weaving, being woven through the years, my essence, my self, the deepest sense of me, being revealed in the mirror of ancestors, of my her/story,  pieces known,unknown, revealed, still being formed.

I find this both comforting and exciting as I close in on my 66th birthday in a few weeks. As they say, “More will be revealed.”


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Gathering Up the Year 2017

IMG_2197Beginning to gather up the year.  I can’t believe I put my hands on all my 2017 journals so quickly.  Often I’m on a hunt all over the house, on bookcases, in tote bags, or who knows where else to get them all in one place.  Soon I will begin to read back through them, highlighting, circling, indexing words, phrases, questions, quotes that leap off the page or that I want to forget I recorded.  It’s another piece of my writing ritual that connects my writing to my life, that helps me make sense of what sometimes feels like random ramblings over blank pages…grateful for my pen and paper and another year.

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Book Review: Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of Five Patterns that Hide Your True Self by Alice McDowell, PhD.


This is an excellent read!  I was surprised by the amount of information in this book.  Psychology/self-help books often just skim the surface of a topic.  Or, they are too deep for the reader who wants hand-on practical ways of applying tools for growth.  Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of Five Patterns that Hide Your True Self is hands-on and practical, not light reading yet so readable for the person on their own journey.  Alice McDowell walks her readers through the psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of the 5 character structures she identifies.  She uses questionnaires, cartoons, exercises, and personal narrative to aid in uncovering your true self.  She helps identify how various issues fit into one prominent pattern, often one that stems from an early childhood wound.  Her language is simple, her examples heart-felt as she guides you on a path of psychological growth that empowers healing and a “softening” of life-long patterns of coping that hide us from our true selves.

Dr. McDowell is a therapist, retreat leader, and co-founded Light on the Hill Retreat Center in Van Etten, New York.  She also developed the Hidden Treasure program, a three year training in spiritual and personal growth.  Formerly a professor of religious studies she now leads groups devoted to the inner journey.