Monthly Archives: July 2016

Reading Is Like Breathing To Me


Reading 2

I can barely remember a time in my life when I wasn’t able to read.  Reading means as much to me as breathing; one without the other is unthinkable.

Although I read many genres, my favorite is history. It’s difficult to say how my love of history originated. I was raised in an extended family with up to five generations regularly gathering for Sunday dinners. I heard endless tales about how great life used to be before modern morals screwed up society. Reading history was a useful method for fact-checking that glorious past.

It is easier to explain why I love military history. I’m a contrarian.  I was raised as a Mennonite, a Protestant sect that is pacifist.  Studying military history appealed to me as a protest against a patriarchal society that set stifling boundaries on women’s expectations. After all, military people get to fight back and sometimes win.

I began reading about the American War of Independence before moving on to our Civil War.  One of the best accounts of the Civil War is Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson. It’s a “must read” for anyone interested in that war.

A source on southern life in the Civil War is Mary Chestnut’s Civil War, edited by C. Vann Woodward.  Mary Chestnut was a close friend of Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis. Her memoir is full of political intrigues as well as the deprivations caused by the Yankee blockade.

Later I read about World War I flying aces. The top ace of the war was Baron Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron. But my favorite is Oswald Boelcke, the ace who commanded the jasta or flying circus before Richtofen. The last commander of that jasta, by the way, was Herman Goering of WW II infamy.

The biography of Boelcke illustrates an important point about history. Perspectives change. The original 1932 version by Professor Johannes Werner was published as the Weimar Republic tottered and the Nazis were close to taking power. The biography is full of jingoistic exhortations to German schoolboys to be loyal sons to their parents and the Reich. The English translation, Knight of Germany, includes the Professor’s rhetoric, which may be unsettling for some readers. The jingoism obscures the fact that Oswald Boelcke was a respected man who originated fighter pilot tactics that are still in use.

Eventually I moved on to reading about World War II, European Theater of Operations. A favorite author is Carlo D’este who writes well and includes extensive annotated endnotes.  I’ve also read scores of memoirs ranging from field marshals to French Resistance fighters. Memoirs are a great way for survivors to settle old scores against their enemies, including occasionally, the opposing side in the war.

I recommend reading history as the best method for gaining perspective on life. What we live through every day, good and bad, has happened before. History shows us how to cope with the bad and work toward the good.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website:

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The Other Side of the Couch – What To Do When It’s Too Late

Too Late

The woman sitting across from me is a mess.  She is in my office because her husband of thirty years has out of the blue announced that he wants a divorce.  The entire narrative of her life has been turned upside down in the space of a few hours.  The reality that she has lived with – that she is loved, that she is part of a partnership that is ongoing, that she and her husband have had their issues, but will always work them out and will grow old together – is torn apart.  She is facing a broken home, a home that she has poured everything she has into creating and maintaining.  She chose to be a stay-at-home mom, and their financial circumstances allowed this to happen.  She was so certain of the relationship that the idea of its being gone is literally nauseating.

I know the long road ahead of this woman as she enters the netherworld of interrogatories, property settlements, splitting of assets.  Who keeps the house, does anyone keep the house, does anyone WANT to keep the house?  How will the children manage?  Even as adults, divorce breaks families apart.  Custody may not be an issue, but adult emotional loyalties are as delicate and easily damaged as a child’s psyche.

The experience of breaking apart a marriage is wrenching for all concerned.  Whether married for months or years or decades, couples carry into a divorce the reality of heartbreak and broken dreams.  More often than not one of the spouses is anxious to end things, and the other spouse wants only to hold on in the hope that something, anything, will stop the inevitable demise of the marriage.

The end of a marriage is a crazy time for both partners.  Whether both want the marriage to end or one does and the other doesn’t, the effect of breaking the bonds of attachment and commitment is profound, if sometimes unconscious for a time.  The leaver often becomes callous to the pain of the “leavee,” or the leaver may become so guilty about wanting to leave that he/she makes financial decisions that are not reasonable.  If the decision is mutual, there is nonetheless a need for dealing with the psychic fallout from what amounts to a nuclear bomb going off in people’s lives.

One way to mitigate some of this distress is by using some of the attorneys, therapists and mediators who are committed to using the collaborative divorce model.  Even if two people are not in agreement about ending the marriage, the use of collaborative divorce can dial down the adversarial struggle that mirrors the internal pain of the dying marriage.  Another helpful process is that of using Divorce Care (which has a religious component and is often found in churches) or Divorce Recovery, a more secular support process.

Have you gone through a break-up or a divorce?  What was helpful to you?  Please leave ideas and comments below, and thank you.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at

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Leadership Lessons:  Think Before You Hit “Send”

Undo Undo

In my personal life, I am an unabashed optimist and someone who barrels through situations with abandon.  I’m not dangerously impulsive, but particularly when it comes to communication, I just lay my feelings right out there.  I express my thoughts freely both verbally and in writing.  When I’m emailing or texting with friends and family, for me, it’s all part of an ongoing conversation and I can “hear” my loved ones’ voices through their words.

But when it comes to business, I’ve learned that as a leader it’s imperative to proceed with caution.  When I began my tenure as President of my organization, I was eager to be available and responsive to my team and my constituents.  When I received an email or text, I would jump to respond, usually without considering the consequences.  But unfortunately there is no “unsend,” button.  Early on, I received an email from a member of my leadership team asking for an opinion on a policy issue.  I instinctively responded with my usual cheery encouragement to just go for it.  BAD MOVE!  I casually mentioned my decision to my predecessor who informed me a decision had already been made, before my tenure, to move in the opposite direction.  Oy!

After doing some damage control, I gave some thought to how I could better handle these types of situations.  First, and most obvious, is to control my urge to respond immediately.  While it’s important to be timely, it’s equally important to be thoughtful.  I need to take a breath and really consider the options, try to look at all sides of a situation and analyze the “what ifs.”  I also need to seek advice before issuing an opinion.  There are plenty of resources available to me and a good leader takes advantage of resources.  I can always give a quick, “I’ll get back to you on that,” response and then do my homework.  But it doesn’t serve anyone if I’m too eager.

So what’s the takeaway?  When you’re called upon for input, advice or to problem solve, especially when it’s via email or text, stop and think.  You have the luxury of taking some time to consider your answer, do your research, and consider your options.  I can’t count how many times recently I have started an email only to realize I wasn’t ready to answer, and hit the “delete,” button.  Don’t be afraid to take your time.  And remember: Think before you “send!”

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Check it out at  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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