Book Review: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

An unforgettable and unpredictable debut novel of guilt, punishment, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive.

Book cover for The Execution of Noa P. SingletonThose words are part of the marketing package for the novel. I couldn’t have said it better myself. But I didn’t realize it would be unforgettable until I finished it. And its unpredictability explains why it took me a long time to get past the first chapter. But every time I logged on to Goodreads, I would be reminded it was still there, waiting for me to finish. I am very glad I picked it up again.

This is a mystery about a murder on many levels. Did Noa really murder Sarah? Why didn’t she say anything in her own defense during her trial? Why did Sarah’s mother change her opinion of the death penalty? Did the fact that her father was absent, and therefore unknown to Noa during childhood, play a role in the events? What does the P in her name stand for? Some of these questions remain at the end of the book, but enough are answered for the reader to be satisfied. For the story to stick and poke at memories and childhood secrets.

The most important questions all begin with Why. Why did Noa say nothing in her own defense? Why is she so determined not to satisfy Sarah’s mother’s curiosity about the event? Why does Noa lie? Why did she drop out of Penn? Those questions remain largely unanswered, only hinted at. And that is the strength of the book. Because we don’t get those answers from Noa, we end up asking similar ones about our own lives. Those questions raise thoughts of own own guilt, our own family relationships as well as our relationships with others. Those questions bring up thouhts of what we might have done differently. For those reasons, this book will stay with me for at least as long as the 450-some days it took me to finish reading it.


connect, respect, protect

tv_flashpoint01I hate to admit this about any television program, but I’ve become a Flashpoint junkie.  I never watched this Canadian television program when it debuted, but ION Television bought up the rights to the series from CBS and has been rebroadcasting the seasons nearly every day recently. I recorded them without realizing what the series was about. The title was intriguing enough to catch my eye.

Initially, I thought this series would be so easy for Second City TV, if it still existed, to parody. Instead of the three and sometimes even four black vans with dark-tinted windows and flashing blue lights making their way in single file through Toronto’s downtown streets without problems, I’d like to see them encounter normal downtown traffic, preventing the last vehicle from keeping up with the others, peeling off one more at successive traffic lights until they are each on their own. Or, instead of the six members of Team One jumping out fully covered in their armored vests, pants held tight just above the knee with a holster for weapon or equipment, and carrying high-power long guns, able to jog from the vans to the site of the emergency without breaking a sweat or even breathing heavily from exertion, I’d like to see one of them trip on that gear and fall down, knocking the others over like dominoes.

But I’m willing to suspend my disbelief regarding all their gear because I am charmed by their motto — connect, respect, protect — and by how they approach both those they are there to protect and those they need protecting from.

Unlike episodes of U.S. cop shows where the SWAT team arrives with a battering ram to break down the door so those with the long guns can start shooting at anyone in sight, Team One members follow their motto — protecting those who need it, respecting everyone in the area, and connecting with those holding guns, knives, bombs, or hostages to defuse the situation, ideally without anyone being injured. Like all law enforcement officers Flashpoint team members train to keep fit physically as well as to maintain their sharp shooter skills, but they also train to improve their negotiation skills and to recognize behavioral clues that indicate state of mind so they can adjust their plan accordingly. They use the clues to determine how to connect with victims and witnesses, to gather information to learn the suspect’s motivation, and to help anticipate what the suspect will do next.

I’ve picked up some negotiation tactics myself as a result of watching the shows.

  • First, establish rapport by telling the other person your name and asking for his.
  • Second, point out that nothing done up to this point is irreversible. It is possible to end the standoff right here and right now.
  • Third, you always have a choice, but some choices are better than others.
  • Fourth, consider the consequences of the choice you are contemplating now, and then consider the consequences of other choices so you can identify the best option, the best choice, for now.
  • Only use force when necessary, and deadly force is always the last option.

These tactics are appropriate in less than life-threatening situations as well — well the first four anyway. Imagine a situation when a friend has disappointed you, or you feel that you have disappointed a friend. First, establish rapport — with the other person or even with another side of yourself — by finding common ground, something to agree on. Second, point out that the friendship is still what is important. It is possible to close the distance between one another right here and right now. Third, you always have a choice, but some choices are better than others. Fourth, consider the consequences of the choice you are contemplating now and then consider the consequences of other choices so you can identify the best option, the best choice, for now.

Perhaps I am just rationalizing my Flashpoint habit by finding something positive, some lesson, some take away — it isn’t just entertainment; it’s educational, too! But the clincher for me is that motto — protect, respect, connect. A good story that illustrates the power of those three words is worth telling, and retelling. If you haven’t watched Flashpoint yet, I encourage you to check it out.

a guide to healthy aging for women

Healthy Aging for Women

For more about the infographic, see here.

The infographic above represents the top diseases that affect women as we age as well as strategies to address them. I was surprised to see autoimmune diseases on the chart, and even more surprised that 75% of sufferers of autoimmune diseases are women. I guess I am in good company with my Graves disease diagnosis. The National Institutes of Health website has an informative page with information about the more than 80 different autoimmune diseases, the suspected causes, and available treatments, but there is little known about the triggers that bring on the diseases.

I have my own theory to explain the rise in autoimmune diseases: I believe the change in our diet over the years, especially the increase in processed foods with preservatives and remnants of pesticides and herbicides used to increase crop yield, is playing a significant role.

In 2012, National Public Radio reported on recent research into the good bacteria in our bodies and their role in our health.

The human body contains about 100 trillion cells, but only maybe one in 10 of those cells is actually — human. The rest are from bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms.

“The human we see in the mirror is made up of more microbes than human,” said Lita Proctor of the National Institutes of Health, who’s leading the Human Microbiome Project.

“The definition of a human microbiome is all the microbial microbes that live in and on our bodies but also all the genes — all the metabolic capabilities they bring to supporting human health,” she said.

These microbes aren’t just along for the ride. They’re there for a reason. We have a symbiotic relationship with them — we give them a place to live, and they help keep us alive.

“They belong in and on our bodies; they help support our health; they help digest our food and provide many kinds of protective mechanisms for human health,” Proctor said.

And for the past 75 years, we have been killing off the microbes that used to live in our digestive system through the addition of preservatives that make it possible for us to keep the products on our shelves longer. It makes sense to me that if the preservatives kill off the bacteria the food processors don’t want in their products, then the preservatives will continue to do the same work in my gut.

A July 2014 New York Times article reported on studies by Dr. Martin J. Blaser who concludes that we are losing the variety of microbes that used to be part of each human organism.

Dr. Martin J. Blaser, a specialist in infectious diseases at the New York University School of Medicine and the director of the Human Microbiome Program, has studied the role of bacteria in disease for more than three decades. His research extends well beyond infectious diseases to  autoimmune conditions and other ailments that have been increasing sharply worldwide.

In his new book, “Missing Microbes,” Dr. Blaser links the declining variety within the microbiome to our increased susceptibility to serious, often chronic conditions,  from allergies and celiac disease to Type 1 diabetes and obesity. He and others primarily blame antibiotics for the connection.

I am a convert to the organic food movement. I plan to eat what doesn’t come with preservatives, antibiotics, pesticides, or herbicides in order to get everything my body needs, not a limited selection offered up by food processors. I want grass-fed beef and free range chickens. I want fish from the sea, not from a farm. As I shift my diet, I’ll be looking for improvements in my Graves disease and diabetes. And I’ll pass on my observations, subjective and based on limited data though they may be.

lessons from the dalai lama

For his 80th birthday, the Dalai Lama’s shared eight lessons for living and asked that we all try to follow them.


For more information about each of these lessons, see this article from

what to do? what to do?

Compact Calendar Card - Design 3 by Joe Lanman, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Joe Lanman 

Those who have retired before keep reminding me that it won’t take long for me to wonder how I did anything while still working. My days will be filled with projects until there isn’t any more time left.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

photo (56)So, even though it might sound like work, I plan to schedule my time in blocks of 1-2 hours in this new retirement state. I have a white board positioned to my right, under the window of my office, at just the right height for me to add items while sitting at my laptop.

I’ll include those tasks I never could find time for before, like housework (thanks, Sweetheart, for filling in when it was clear I wouldn’t). Two hours each day, at least for the first week. And I have a stack of recipes I want to try – rhubarb upside down cake, orange scones, rhubarb pie – so one of those will go on the schedule for each day. And I plan to write more, for this blog and for myself. That means some time needs to be scheduled for research, another 1-2 hours.

Then there are the presentations I promised to do for Ladies of Valhall (the women’s auxiliary of Sons of Norway out here in San Diego) in September and for the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild in August. They will each take 2-4 hours to prepare.

Every other week I meet with my critique circle. I need to have a new piece written (or an old piece rewritten so that it is worth sharing). That requires another 4-6 hours every other week.

There are audio tapes from Great Uncle Henry from his years living in China while he worked for the Chinese Maritime Customs Service in the 20’s and 30’s. I keep picking them up to transcribe them, but get stalled in the same places each time. I’ve been reading books and books about China’s history in the period just before he arrived there, during the years he was there, and even some of the history afterwards to try to absorb more of what he assumes his listener knows. Transcribing the tapes I have will take weeks, not hours.

Through all of this I have to continue maintaining the website for the Writers Guild, adding posts regularly to improve the likelihood that new people will discover it and decide the Guild is worth looking into. That takes 1-2 hours every day.

I also hope to dig deeper into my family history, to learn more of just who our ancestors were and how their hopes and dreams have influenced mine. Everyone I know who is into genealogy tells me there aren’t enough hours in the day to devote to this project. There is never a point at which the work is “done.”

There are photos to organize (and scan), papers to file (and others to shred), closets and cupboards to organize, and trips to plan.

photoThere are now 8 more hours in each week day that can be scheduled and that means I need to keep a paper calendar with me at all times because I won’t be able to keep all the possibilities in my head. I tried scheduling everything on my iPhone, but it just doesn’t look like a calendar. I need to see not just the events I have scheduled but all the days between them. Look left to see what I mean.

I must leave time for reading. I am reading Peder Victorious, the sequel to Ole Rolvaag’s Norwegian immigrant saga, Giants in the Earth. And yesterday I borrowed the third in Norwegian mystery writer Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, The Redbreast. I’ve read four of his books, three from the Harry Hole series (The Phantom (9th), The Bat (1st), Cockroaches (2nd), and am now working my way through them in the order Nesbo wrote them) and one standalone novel, Headhunters. I won’t be satisfied until I’ve read all the books in both those authors’ series.

But most importantly, there are the grandchildren. Not working any longer means we can help out during the day, not just after my work day ended.

Ufda! I think I understand what those kind folks advising me about the future mean. I don’t know how I’ll ever get all of that done. But I’ll let you know if I discover any tricks.

wall to wall – sharing our journey

front room / 03 by fragmented, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  fragmented 

Among my earliest memories is a photo of one of the ships that my dad served on during World War Ii while he was in the U.S. Merchant Marines. It hung just to the right of the front door, the last thing seen when we left the house.

There weren’t a lot of other items on the walls of that first house. For a few years, Mom used to check framed prints out of the library for six months at a time so that she could hang a picture above the sofa which was positioned against the wall with the largest empty area, uninterrupted by windows or doorways. Many of those prints had a religious theme, appropriate since it was under those prints that we sat each morning as Mom read from a family devotions book as part of our preparations for school.

Years later, after each my siblings and I had moved away, what appeared on the walls of my parents’ house changed considerably.

Some items appeared because of the passing of an older member of the family. A large framed photograph of one of my father’s uncles in his World War I uniform covered most of the wall at one side of the hutch in the dining room. This uncle, my father’s namesake, died a few months before my father was born. On the other side of the hutch, a silk-embroidered picture of a building in China hung, an item another of my father’s uncles had brought home from Shanghai where he for nearly 20 years.

Some items were pictures or decorative items they chose, including souvenirs from their travels. But more were gifts from their children: souvenirs we sent them from our travels or that we felt they would appreciate as much as we did.

From that first photograph of my father’s ship to items removed the last day before the house was sold, items on the walls of their home had sentimental, not intrinsic, value. While my mother probably had a specific reason for selecting each of the library-framed items of my early childhood, those stories weren’t obvious. But the story of each of the items on their walls in later years were known to us. And that is true of the objects that adorn the walls of our home as well. Framed photographs of camels and desert scenes, framed post cards of historic or simply picturesque buildings, and framed Bedouin jewelry from a half dozen countries form a large portion of what can be found on our walls, each of them representing one of the countries we have lived and worked in. Paintings – lots of paintings from Moldova and from a time when the prices were so low we didn’t need to ask the cost before selecting six at a time – form another large segment. And let’s not forget the dozen framed posters from the Soviet era that we rescued from being wasted as wrapping paper in the gift store of the hotel where we lived. Each item on our walls has a story. And we love telling them.

renewable resolutions

abstract-sketch-of-woman-meditating-and-doing-yoga-vector-illustration_zJ196f_dAs the first month of 2015 comes to a close, I am renewing my resolutions for 2015. Notice I did not say my New Year’s Resolutions. I want to disconnect my resolutions from any particular day. Instead, I want to succeed, not fail, so I’m reframing the idea of making resolutions by setting out goals for shorter periods of time, goals I can measure as success, instead of milestones that I am bound to fall short of.

For example, instead of setting a milestone of walking at least 10,000 steps per day, a number that I have seen over and over as a reasonable goal for healthy living, I’m setting an achievable goal – one some might consider too low. But my own experience indicates my goal is doable and beyond what happens in my normal day. My goal is to walk at least 3,000 steps at least three times a week until it is so customary that I need to increase it.

Three-thousand steps may not seem like a lot. And back when I was commuting from my home to the office, it wasn’t. I walked from my house to the bus stop, from the bus stop to the Metro station, from the Metro station to the office, and I reversed this pattern on the way home. I was at 3,000 steps even if I didn’t move from my desk. But I did move from my desk, several times a day. I walked from my desk to the conference rooms where meetings were held. Sometimes those conference rooms were in another building so I walked between the buildings. When I wanted coffee, I had to walk to the kitchen or even all the way to the cafeteria. I even walked around to see people and chat about what is going on in their lives.

But now, my commute doesn’t even register on my Fitbit. I guess it requires a minimum number of steps to begin counting and the distance between the bedroom I sleep in and the bedroom I work in doesn’t get there. And now, when I join a meeting, I pick up my cell phone and dial a number. My sweetheart brings me coffee and breakfast in the morning, a mid-morning snack with tea, and then lunch at noon. Total steps walked each work day: 0.

At the beginning of 2015, I determined I would set renewal goals, the goals that I could renew or reset periodically instead of starting out with the end in mind without regard for the path to get there. But I foolishly set what I thought was a modest goal in January – 5,000 steps per day. Since that is half of the number I kept hearing should be the goal, that seemed modest. But not when the daily living minimum is right there at under 100. And that meant I was failing every day. So my goal for the month of February is 3,000 steps per day at least 3 days a week. I’ve already gotten more than 3,000 steps in three days this week, and I have the rest of today and all day tomorrow to do more. That’s success!

There are some overarching principles for my renewable resolutions:

  • Do what is healthy and avoid what is not.
  • Do what honors and respects those around me and avoid what does not.
  • Do what protects and supports my family and avoid what does not.

My other renewal resolutions must fit within those principles

  • Eat what is healthy for me every day.
  • Cut down on what isn’t healthy to eat at least three days a week until it is so customary I need to increase the number of days.
  • Do something that engages my mind – read, write, complete puzzles, play games – every day.
  • Keep all my activities in balance, even if it means abandoning one of the renewable resolutions on a given day if it risks breaking my commitment to the overarching principles.

No more resolutions to lose weight. When a number is the goal, it is too easy to do things that are unhealthy.

No more resolutions to write a novel by the end of the year. Novels are made up of chapters. Chapters are made up of pages. Pages are made up of paragraphs, and paragraphs of sentences. I need to start small and celebrate the successes not start big and fail each day.

I don’t need those resolutions because if I focus on my renewable resolutions, I will be doing what I need to do, within a framework and in balance, to get me to the goals I otherwise will fail at.