*Afterthought #56 Clearness Committee How-To

In my forthcoming memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I write about how my husband and I requested a clearness committee  from our Quaker meeting to help us find clarity on a major decision about work and home. In Afterthought #53, I posted a recent QuakerSpeak video about what’s involved with being a member of a clearness committee. This month, QuakerSpeak presented a how-to for being a “focus person” of a clearness committee – that is, what this process is like for the individual (or couple) seeking clarity about a question. These Friends express well the strength and comfort I’ve received from participation in clearness committees.



*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.

“The Twenty-Year Memoir”: Re-blog from BREVITY

In the early years of my work to write a memoir, I heard Barbara Kingsolver talk about her novel, The Poisonwood Bible. She explained it sat in the bottom drawer of her file cabinet  for twenty years, and referred to it as her “damn Africa book.”

As my unfinished manuscript inched toward the two-decade mark, I often called it my “damn Stehekin book” and took some comfort in knowing that Kingsolver, whose writing I admire, toiled many years, too.

When I first began to write what turned into Hiking Naked  (forthcoming from Homebound Publications, September 2017), I naively thought I could finish it in a year.  But as weary and frustrated as I often felt, I’m glad I put in the time to, as Marc Nieson suggests, “to grow into” my words. I appreciate his insights on his  journey to write Schoolhouse  (follow the link below) and am eager to read his “quiet memoir.”

By Marc Nieson Growing up, I delivered newspapers after school. Every day, for some ten years. And forty years later, I can still remember the front stoops and names of many of those customers. Some nights I’ll even dream about that paper route. One spring afternoon, though, stands out above all the rest. I was […]

via Finish Work: The Twenty-Year Memoir — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog


Undoubtedly you’ve heard (or said) the expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” While I agree with the saying’s assertion that you can’t know what something or someone is like based only on appearance, as an author, publisher, and bookseller, I believe that the literal interpretation isn’t completely accurate. When it comes to books, the cover can determine whether someone looks right past it or picks it up and thumbs through the pages. And if it’s your book waiting to be snatched up, you want to be sure that the cover calls out to anyone who glances its way.

Robbin Schiff, executive art director at Random House Publishing Group, summed up the book cover’s significance in an interview with Mashable, a global media and entertainment company. “The most intriguing designs don’t give too much away, and you absolutely can judge many things about the book by its cover,” Schiff says.

I came to understand the importance of covers with my first book, Hands at Work. Photographer Summer Moon Scriver and I knew that not only the book’s cover, but the entire layout design, was as important as our words and images in telling the stories of people passionate about working with their hands. When we consulted with Bob Lanphear of Lanphear Design, we knew we’d found the right person when he said, “This book will tell us what it wants to be.”

Other authors had warned me that settling on a cover can be one of the hardest—and most important—tasks in book publishing. There’s added stress to this decision because it’s usually made quite late in the process—after the book has told you “what it wants to be.”

 Mashable presented a vivid perspective on covers in a post in March 2015 entitled, “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover ‘til You See How Long It Takes to Design.” The article includes a video for Hausfrau: A Novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum, in which Random House “offers a rare peek into the book design process.” The clip cycles through a dizzying number of drafts of the hardcover book’s jacket, giving readers an idea of what designers go through to create a cover that does the work it needs to do. A quick online search reveals that the paperback ended up with a different cover.

For Hands at Work, Bob offered numerous design ideas (though nowhere near the number as Random House did for Hausfrau). Since the book depicts a couple dozen different kinds of work, we steered away from using a single image of someone’s hands (even though we had many stunning photographs to choose from). We didn’t want to give the impression that the book was all about baking, or weaving, or automotive repair. Summer and I knew the right one when we saw it, though.

H@W Cover LG (2)

In recent weeks, I’ve again focused on covers for two forthcoming books I’ve been working on. The first, BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, will be released to the public on Friday, October 21. Published by the Lopez Community Land Trust, the 124-page book combines color photographs, profiles, and recipes for twenty-eight Lopez Island farms and farmers to present an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to bring food from earth to table on Lopez Island.

BOUNTY Project Director Sue Roundy recognized the same challenge that Summer, Bob, and I faced with Hands at Work of selecting a single image to represent the diversity of farms and farmers portrayed in the book’s pages. With hundreds of photographs to choose from, Sue felt that one of The Sweetbriar Farm by Robert S. Harrison best communicated the book’s themes. Jane Jeszeck designed the layout to create a cover that I think readers will find irresistible.


Though still farther off from publication, the cover for my memoir, Hiking Naked, has been mocked up by my publisher, Homebound Publications. This small press’s founder, Leslie M. Browning, has an artistic eye and usually designs authors’ book covers in addition to all of her other duties as a publisher (and author, with a new novel, The Castoff Children). I’m delighted with the cover Leslie proposed using a photograph by Nancy Barnhart of Stehekin, WA (the book’s setting).


Thanks to the artists I’ve had the privilege to work with, I’m quite content for people to judge my books by their covers.




The envelope from the Washington State Department of Health arrived in April, just as it had every year since 1981. The seven years before that, I’d received a similar one annually from the Indiana State Board of Nursing. For forty years, I never hesitated to check the boxes, write the check, and mail in the renewal for my registered nurse license before the deadline of my birthday in May.

Over the course of four decades, I worked in surgical intensive care, oncology, nursing education, hospice and home health, public health, and school nursing. For about twenty of those years, I pursued nursing with passion and single-minded zeal, clear that it was my calling. Throughout the last half of my career, though, I considered (often with much angst) that perhaps I was being led to different work, or at least to a different way of working. That search has fueled much of my writing, including my first book, Hands at Work, and my forthcoming memoir, Hiking Naked – A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance.

inactiveTwo years ago, just one month after sending in my license renewal, I left the school nurse position I’d commuted to on another island for five years. The following year, when the RN license renewal notice arrived, I checked a different box—INACTIVE—and paid a slightly lower fee. The form I completed explained that with this new status, I had no continuing education requirements, and I couldn’t practice. That was fine with me, for I no longer felt called to work as a nurse at all. And yet, I wasn’t ready to entirely let go of the piece of paper that had permitted me a credential, and an identity, I’d held for most of my adult life.

For weeks after this year’s renewal notice arrived, the envelope sat in the basket on my desk. Periodically I’d read the guidance:

Avoid an expired credential: Do not let your credential expire. You must make sure we have your renewal before it expires. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to practice.

One day, shortly before the renewal deadline (and my birthday), I called the Nursing Commission to verify what would happen if I didn’t renew my license in any category at all.

“Your license will be listed as expired,” the voice on the phone replied.

Expired. My dictionary offers these definitions and synonyms:

Expired ~ verb  1 my contract has expired: run out, become invalid, become void, lapse; end, finish, stop, come to an end, terminate.

But those aren’t the words I want to use to describe my decision to not renew my nursing license. Instead, this action signifies release, transformation, and acknowledgment of a long, full, completed career. So last weekend, I asked my women’s group to join me in a symbolic “renewal” of my license. They passed the form from hand to hand, each folding or shaping it in a way that would change it to a size to fit in a small, lidded dish I cherish. For now it sits on my dresser next to a photograph of my dad and me the day I received my cap in my first year of nursing school.

license (1)


My dictionary tells me expire can also mean to breathe out, exhale. And in order to exhale, you have to inhale; to expire, you must inspire. Those are the actions and images I choose to focus on now, nearly a month after my nursing license has expired.