Book Review: Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers: 26 Years of OCD

Life in a WhirlwindIn Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers: 26 Years of OCD, David William Dahlberg shares his painful and often overwhelming life with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder).. What made David’s condition even more tragic is that his condition went undiagnosed until well into his adulthood.

Triggered by a distressing event in his early teens, Dahlberg is tormented by consuming images and frightening scenes that won’t go away. He develops ritual behavior that he repeats over and over again to expel the tormenting images. Math was an easy subject for Dahlberg, but numbers both triggered his phobias and played into temporarily abating them by numerically ritualizing common actions. With a complicated system of calculations, he determined which numbers, or combination of numbers, were “good” and which were “bad.” Even going to bed would sometimes take a half hour or more, taking his feet off the floor a prescribed number of times, coinciding with the clock.

His condition began affecting his school work. He was a bright, musically talented boy, but, left on his own it would take an uncommonly long time to complete his lessons, obsessing over a phrase and repeatedly writing it. Often socially withdrawn, he would infuriate teachers and other students with inappropriate comments. Studying by himself seemed impossible; he couldn’t stay focused on the task at hand. Although he could concentrate on music while in band or orchestra, when alone he found himself repeating the same passage over and over again, obsessed with doing it the “correct” number of times.

It became clear, especially in later years looking back, that when he was in a classroom or otherwise around people he could hide his irrational fears, or at least he wouldn’t act on them when he could be observed. But when alone his time and energy were spent trying to dispel the persistent images.

Throughout his school and college years, Dahlberg struggled with OCD, while all this time his condition went undiagnosed. He had never even heard the term Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In addition to having to make his rituals in certain numeric order, for years he suffered from sleep deprivation. He was married a number of years before a crisis occurred in which he sought professional help. It was then that he learned his condition had a name: OCD.

Life in a Whirlwind of Numbers is a well-told story about the all-consuming, debilitating affects of OCD. I admire the author’s honesty and courage in discussing his often painful and tormented life. He leaves the reader with hope that diagnosis and treatment are available, as are medications to bring relief. I recommend this enlightening book to anyone interested in learning more about obsessions, and especially to those who suffer from the affects of this condition.

Book Review: The Interestings

Meg Wolitzer’s engrossing novel, The Interestings, brings the reader into the lives of six The Interestingsteenagers who meet at a summer camp for the arts, form a strong bond, and call themselves “The Interestings.” Some of the teens come from wealthy families, some are there on scholarship. To them it makes no difference: they form life-long friendships that will endure through decades. That is, most of them. Some will follow different, even dangerous paths.

Most of the novel is seen through the eyes of Jules Jacobson, who comes to the summer camp with aspirations to become a comic actress. Beautiful and gracious Ash, Jules’ best friend and hopeful playwright, and Ethan, a gifted animator, eventually marry and become extraordinarily wealthy. We follow the six teens into adulthood as they pursue their diversified lives.

The book takes place almost exclusively in New York beginning in 1974, the year President Nixon resigns, and sweeps through to the characters’ fifties. Wolitzer’s skill in following these six characters—male and female, young and old, gay and straight, rich and of ordinary means, depressed and vital—is never confusing, and is always thoughtful and perceptive. Even though there are flashbacks, I always knew where in the story I was. The author articulates the thoughts of the various characters with feeling and humor, consistent with their age. She also brings us along with the times: the early days of diagnosed HIV-positive, cordless phones, the Moonies, Women’s Lib, the Internet.

The Interestings is an ambitious human study and is immensely entertaining. The paperback version I read has 538 highly absorbing pages. I found myself fully engrossed with the characters, place, and time.

Meg Wolitzer is an accomplish writer and teacher. To learn more about her work, visit

Book Review: Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Sycamore RowOn a Sunday morning after church, Seth Hubbard, a wealthy man dying of cancer, hangs himself from a sycamore tree. Just before his final act, he hand-writes a new will, one that replaces his previously filed will that named his adult children his primary beneficiaries..

On Monday, when Clanton, Mississippi attorney Jake Brigance receives a letter from Seth Hubbard and the hand-written will, he’s astonished. The will reads that Seth Hubbard has left 90 percent of his vast holdings to his black maid, Lettie. The attorney doesn’t know Mr. Hubbard nor Lettie, but he feels obligated to handle this case judiciously.

The estate is estimated to be $24 million, mostly in cash assets. When Hubbard’s daughter and her husband and Hubbard’s divorced son learn of their father’s death, they come running, unlike their behavior when their father was alive. Of course, they’re already mentally spending their inheritance.

When the facts of the hand-written will become known, the chaos begins. Attorneys gather to contest the more recent will, salivating at the money to be earned in defense of the family.

The case goes to trial and surprising, even shocking, events are revealed. Author John Grisham, a southerner, doesn’t soft-peddle race relations in the late 1980s, when this story takes place.

Readers of Grisham’s first legal thriller, A Time to Kill, will recognize the attorney Jake Briggance and some of the characters from his world. I especially enjoyed the banter between the lawyers.

A former attorney, John Grisham practiced Mississippi law before he turned to writing. His popularity is well deserved. In reading his books, you learn about the law, but his stories aren’t steeped in legalese. Coming from the Northwest, I cringed at some of the racial insinuations. I realize they are true in the south, or were in the 1980’s, and especially further back when some of the story takes place.

Sycamore Row is a fast-paced and engrossing legal thriller, one I heartily recommend.

How Can I Help?

George MacKay IMG_1687We often ask “How can I help?” when someone we’re close to—a relative, friend or neighbor—loses someone to a death, or is burdened with caring for a convalescent or terminally ill loved one. How can we help?

We ask this with sincerity, but people burdened with caring for a loved one are often so overwhelmed they cannot concentrate on what other people could do for them. On the other hand, some of us find it difficult to ask for help. We don’t want to impose, or can’t even imagine what someone else might do to ease our burden.

Instead of asking what you can do, think about what you can do, then do it. Right now.
Here are a few ideas:

Fix a meal. This is a huge time and expense saver for the person responsible for feeding a family.

Prepare a goody bag for those waiting at the hospital. Those in all-night or all-day vigils hesitate to leave to go to a hospital cafeteria (if there is one). A selection of sandwiches, crackers and cheese, cut up vegetables, nuts, apples, bottled juices, and even a thermos of coffee is a welcome and healthful treat, and beats eating junk from a dispensing machine.

Consider a gift card. It’s expensive to have a family member in the hospital. Consider giving the caregiver a prepaid gas or parking card. It’s not only the money, but the thought that means so much to a stressed family member.

Find a helpful job. Look around and see what you can do to make a grieving family’s life easier. I once read of a neighbor wanting to help a family who had just lost a beloved relative and were preparing for a cross-country flight to attend the funeral. The neighbor took his shoe-shine kit to their house and said, “Bring me all the shoes that you’ll be taking.” He shined five pairs of shoes, filling a real need while at the same time showing his love and concern.

Maybe mowing a lawn would help, cleaning a house, or making a needed repair. Washing windows could be a blessing for someone short on time or energy.

Fill an urgent need.  A friend of mine took on the care of an adult son who was suddenly a quadriplegic after a diving accident. Her brothers stepped in to build a wheelchair ramp, redesign the bathroom and adjust doorways to accommodate a large wheelchair. This resulted in huge savings, but even more important, gave emotional support when it meant the most.

Offer to babysit or adult-sit. People can only be in one place at a time and it’s stressful to be concerned about children or an elderly parent at home while being needed at a hospital. If it’s too much for one person, organize a team who will take turns taking care of the child or person in need of attention at home.

Give a caregiver a break. Offer to stay with the patient for a few hours or overnight while the caregiver attends to her own needs, or just takes some time off. Everyone needs time to themself and this break can go a long way toward giving needed relief.

Offer transportation. Getting to a hospital or health center can be daunting to someone who doesn’t drive. Offer to drive, perhaps setting up a schedule so you can be counted on. If the frequency is too much for you, organize a team to provide transportation on a regular basis.

Give them a reason to laugh. Laughter is healing and relieves stress. Reminisce with a grieving or burdened person, recalling the good times, the funny times. Laughter also helps to bring life into perspective.

Express appreciation. Let the family know how much the patient has been admired and what good things he or she accomplished. It’s comforting to a family losing a beloved member to know how much that person meant to others. After my father’s sudden death, I delivered a promised set of tellers’ floor mats to a bank, a long-standing customer of my father’s. After the workmen unloaded the items from my car, they gathered around and told me how much they had admired my father, his steady good work, and his wonderful sense of humor, even telling me some of the funny things he had said. Of course, it brought fresh tears to my eyes, but I’ve always been grateful and touched that they shared those feelings with me.

Keep the family in your prayers and thoughts. No matter what the family’s or your religious affiliation, offer your prayers, or concerns and thoughts if that’s more appropriate. Letting someone know you’re praying for them, or thinking about them, offers moral support. Illness can be a lonely battle and it’s comforting to know others are rooting for you.

Whatever you do, be assured that you’ll be giving a grieving or anxious family a lift that will touch their hearts. Knowing that other people care helps lighten a difficult burden.

Book Review: Angel Falls

angel_falls_smAngel Falls by Kristin Hannah is a fast-paced story of depth, a story of love between husband and wife, love between parents and children, and passionate love that sometimes turns into regret.

When Mikaela Campbell lapses into a coma after a horse-back riding accident, her doctor-husband, Liam, is beside himself with grief and worry. He knows how serious this type of brain injury can be. Their two children are frightened and confused with their mother unresponsive and away from home.

While Mikaela is in the coma, her family rallies to help. Her mother comes to take care of the family. Liam spends hours, days, talking, reading, playing music to his comatose wife, hoping to bring her back to consciousness,

Mikaela never wanted to discuss her previous marriage. Her daughter was four when Liam and Mikaela were married ten years ago, and they have a son, now 9. While searching for something in their closet, Liam stumbles across evidence that his wife’s previous marriage was to world-famous actor Julian True. Desperate to bring his wife back, Liam turns to her ex-husband for help. He knows what a chance he’s taking, but love for his wife overrides his own happiness.

Angel Falls is a poignant story about love and commitment. The author’s characterization and sense of place is superb. This novel is more than a love story, it’s a story of hope, faith, and commitment.

To learn more about the author, visit

Book Review: Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu

Getting Stoned with SavagesJ. Maarten Troost’s Getting Stoned with Savages provided hours of fun as I vicariously traveled along with him to the South Pacific island nations of Vanuatu and Fiji.

When Troost’s wife accepts a job offer in Vanuatu, they jump at the chance to revisit the South Pacific. Their previous adventure to the Republic of Kiribati resulted in his first book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals. This next venture led to another set of Oceania misadventures and ironic twists of fate.

Although it sounds idealistic, actually living in Vanuatu on the rugged island of Efate, while it has its pleasures, can be plagued with typhoons, frequent earthquakes, and giant centipedes. Troost brings hilarity into his account with an impressive command of narrative and place. The title of the book refers to the use of kava, a potent drink used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes throughout the South Pacific. While not available for recreational use in many countries, including the United States, in Vanuatu it is apparently abundant. Its use and misuse brings lively accounts of the bitter muddy-looking drink.

When Troost’s wife becomes pregnant, they move to Fiji for its more comprehensive medical facilities. While in Fiji the author delves into the incongruities of tribal politics. He has a deep curiosity of cannibalism and learns surprising facts, primarily that it isn’t restricted to being only an ancient custom. Cannibalism has occurred within native people’s memories.

I greatly enjoyed this travel book. Although we sailed through the South Pacific, Vanuatu and Fiji weren’t on our itinerary. In any event, it takes living and working in a place to really know it and its people. Troost’s account, with his sly self-depreciating humor, makes for a lively, fun read.

Book Review: A Man of His Own

A Man of His Own


Susan Wilson’s novel, A Man of His Own, delves into a dog’s world and shows the powerful connection between dog and man.

Rick Stanton is out with his fellow baseball players, relaxing at a neighborhood tavern. He steps outside and a little stray pup, apparently a German shepherd mix, appears out of the darkness. The two quickly become attached. The pup adopts Rick and enjoys having this young bachelor all to himself.

When Francesca comes into their lives, it isn’t love at first sight for the dog, Pax, but once Francesca and Rick are married, he accepts her as family, though the dog still treasures the time when he has Rick to himself.

Rick’s ambition as a baseball pitcher for the majors is put on hold when he’s drafted into the Army and sent to Europe. Francesca and Pax sadly adjust to Rick’s absence. She treasures Pax now–he’s her connection to Rick.

As World War II escalates, the government is calling for war dogs, smart, sturdy dogs that could be trained to help men in the battlefield. Although it’s a tough decision, Francesca, with Rick’s written permission, volunteers Pax into the K-9 Corps.

At first Pax is reluctant to respond to his new master’s commands. But Keller Nicholson’s gentle persuasion wins the dog’s heart and the two of them become an inseparable team, forming a strong and profound bond.

The agreement is that after service, war dogs will be returned to their original owners, but Keller has become so attached to Pax that he can’t bear to give him back. In the meantime, Rick, Pax’s original owner, has returned home with serious, life-altering injuries.

Keller goes to Rick and Francesca’s home to ask their permission to keep Pax, but he finds a difficult situation. Rick’s health needs are more than Francesca can physically cope with. The three of them form an arrangement where Keller will be Rick’s live-in aide. Pax now has all his loved ones in one place and he manages to serve his three humans.

Complications set in. Rick’s injuries are creating severe depression. An attraction between Keller and Francesca can’t be denied. As his three people struggle with feelings they can’t control, Pax, with his unconditional love and loyalty, may be their only hope.

A Man of His Own is an extraordinary novel, a captivating story about the bond between dog and human, love and loyalty, duty and sacrifice.

For more information about the author, visit

View from the Top: Seattle’s Great Wheel

Gerry Hall Photo

Gerry Hall Photo

Ever since it was erected, I have had my eye on that magnificent Ferris wheel on Seattle’s waterfront. On a recent sunny Sunday, our family made a day of going out on the town by visiting the heart of Seattle.

The Seattle Great Wheel is a wonderful destination, and on a clear day the view is spectacular. The wheel extends 40 feet beyond the end of Pier 57 over Elliott Bay. Our party of six filled one of the 42 gondolas and our 20-minute ride was three full revolutions of the wheel.

The day was particularly beautiful with Puget Sound sparkling, and we could see as far away as Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains. Our closer view of Seattle’s waterfront and the city’s skyscrapers was fun, too. We enjoyed identifying the many buildings, including the Smith Tower, a building that has stood for 100 years. Now dwarfed by other buildings, it was once the tallest building on the West Coast.

This latest Seattle icon was built in less than a year and opened to the public in 2012. The wheel, manufactured in Europe and the United States, was assembled right at the end of Pier 57. Standing 175 feet tall, Seattle Great Wheel weighs 280,300 pounds. Its foundation consists of 550 tons of concrete.

The Seattle Great Wheel’s enclosed gondolas are climate-controlled, allowing twelve-month operation, no matter the weather. From inside, passengers have a 360-degree view.

At night, the wheel is lit up with white gondola lights. On special occasions, such as the evenings of University of Washington or Seattle Seahawks home football games, or on holiday evenings, the wheel features an LED light show.

The Seattle Great Wheel is the third in North America with this design, following Niagara SkyWheel in Canada, also 175 feet, and the 187 foot Myrtle Beach SkyWheel in South Carolina. The Seattle Great Wheel is the only one of the three to be built over water.

The United States’ first Ferris wheel appeared in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and was a creation of George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. It was the largest attraction at the World Fair and was hugely popular. Today, the Ferris wheel is a major attraction at county fairs, large and small. It’s a grand way to look around the fair itself and nearby countryside.

The Seattle Great Wheel. It operates daily. Consult their website for hours, prices and announcements:

Book Review: The Walk Series

thewalk-194x300Richard Paul Evans touched my soul with the Walk Series: The Walk, Miles to Go, The Road to Grace, A Step in Faith, and Walking on Water. Each of these five books is a treasure, full of heart wrenching and heartwarming moments, bits of wisdom, humor, determination and self-discovery.

When Alan Christoffersen’s cherished wife, McKale, dies from complications after falling off her horse, his grief is indescribable. Not only that, but, unbelievably, his associate absconds with Alan’s advertising business, and the bank forecloses on his home and cars. He’s lost everything.

Alan decides to walk across America from Seattle, Washington to Key West, Florida, roughly 3,500 miles. With nothing but the pack on his back, he faces challenges both physically and emotionally, but he keeps going, determined to meet his goal.

Each book covers the section Alan treks, and in each book Alan discovers hope, healing, and the power of second chances. The series was a fast read, probably because I simply couldn’t put them down.

I highly recommend The Walk Series written by this inspirational writer. It’s a journey worth taking.

Book Review: Cascadia’s Curse

Cascadias CurseTwo elderly sisters, Emily and Laura, are jolted awake by a piercing tsunami alert warning. They and many of their Oregon coastal neighbors trudge out of their comfortable homes in the middle of a cold, dark March night and drive to a designated assembly area. A large earthquake has occurred 2,000 miles away in the Aleutian Islands.

Emily, a retired geologist, knows the destruction a tsunami could wreak. She knows enough to come prepared with emergency supplies for what could be an extended stay away from home. The assembly area begins to fill, causing tempers to flair. The sisters and a few others decide to drive further up the mountains.

In Cascadia’s Curse, a novel, J. A. Charnov brings awareness to those who live along the Cascadia Fault, or more technically the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ), that runs from northern Vancouver Island, B.C. to Cape Mendocino, California. What many would like to avoid thinking about is brought to life.

Cascadia’s Curse follows the small group that leave the main assembly and also those left behind. When the tsunami hits and then is followed by a massive earthquake, it is far worse than ever imagined. Nature continues her destruction, rearranging Oregon’s coastline. Charnov’s description of these disasters and the affect it has on its victims is vivid and realistic.

Before I retired after twenty years as a volunteer with the American Red Cross, I responded to many national disasters–tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, massive fires, earthquakes and 9/11. The disaster situations described in this book resonated with me. In any disaster scene, natural leaders emerge, as do those who resent them. There will be people who are prepared, who have given thought to survival in disaster. There will be people who have put off preparing for disaster and those who have scoffed at preparedness, who will then have to rely on others. There will be injuries; deaths; violence–caused by both nature and by man. In disasters of this magnitude, the grim fact is that you cannot count on the help of local authorities. They, too, have been overwhelmed and are concerned with their own families. Emergency vehicles are a tangled mess, roads are destroyed, power cut off, sewage lines have burst, clean water contaminated. Charnov has presented both the geological side of such a disaster as well as the human reaction to catastrophe in this realistic thriller.

I highly recommend Cascadia’s Curse. It is a gripping read and keenly describes what many feel is a pending disaster.

For more information about disaster preparedness, visit