Saturday, November 14, 2015

Two Wonderful Books For The Gift-Giving Season

It's fascinating to see how much wisdom, humor and growth can come from adversity.

We've all experienced this to varying degrees: living through something we thought was catastrophic and completely overwhelming. Now, looking back, what resonates most is the way this event, while perhaps still painful in memory, has led us onto a new life path.

As the gift-giving season approaches, I'd like to recommend a pair of books by two remarkable people -- Tom Sightings and Andrea Cleghorn. Both are wonderful writers who weathered crises in midlife and survived, even thrived, to write about their respective journeys. The results are two inspiring books both available at

You Only Retire Once by Tom Sightings is a lively, informative, truly helpful book that is also immensely entertaining. It is a collection of his best blog posts from his popular "Sightings Over Sixty" blog (Sightings Over Sixty: Think About It) Written for would-be or new retirees, it covers information you've always wanted to know -- from whether retirement is possible when you're definitely not a millionaire to making a decision about whether or not to buy long-term care insurance to some insightful pieces on emotional preparation for and adjustment to retirement. 

The inspiration for Tom's blog and this book began with a triple life challenge: his long-time marriage was ending in divorce, his kids were grown up and leaving the nest and he got laid-off from his job. He found comfort in writing -- both blogging and freelance assignments. He is now in a loving relationship and enjoys visits from his children and hers. Life, after all the initial shock and sadness, is good -- and in his inspiring book, Tom shares some valuable insights about retirement, aging and good self-care, both physically and emotionally. A businessman and a professional writer, Tom bases his material not only on his own thoughts and experiences, but also on solid research for a comprehensive guide on making the most of life beyond sixty.

You Only Retire Once  is a must-have for those on your gift list who are dreaming of or actively planning for retirement or those newly retired. And even those of us who have been retired for awhile and think we know everything there is to know about thriving in retirement can learn a lot from Tom's terrific book. It is also a great gift for those who, like me, are great fans of Tom's blog!

The Whipple Brunch by Andrea Cleghorn is fascinating mix: it is, at once, the horrifying, funny, devastating and, ultimately, uplifting story of triumph over truly challenging life events -- thanks to Andrea's amazing resilience and some help from her friends.

Andrea, a journalist and writing/life coach, spent many years as a columnist, book reviewer and travel writer for The Boston Herald. Her articles also have appeared in many national magazines. Not so incidentally, she is also a dear friend of mine, with a shared professional beginning: we both started our careers at 'TEEN Magazine in Los Angeles and, in midlife, both of us decided to take career jogs into helping professions. I went back to graduate school in clinical psychology to become a psychotherapist. Andrea returned to graduate school, getting her Master's degree in social work, and was planning a parallel new career in serving the underserved.

But then life handed her some major surprises: a painful mid-life divorce, the challenge and joys of being a single parent, a devastating fire that destroyed her beautiful 100-year-old house. She, her children and her aging mother barely escaped with their lives while their beloved labrador retriever was lost in the blaze.

And then there was her cancer diagnosis. First, it was a large tumor in her left kidney. The cancerous tumor and the kidney were removed. A few years later, the cancer recurred in her left adrenal gland. Surgery seemed to solve the problem. But nine cancer-free years later, there was another, more dire, diagnosis: the cancer was now in her only remaining kidney and had spread to her pancreas. The only real chance for her survival was a drastic, highly risky surgical procedure called the Whipple, where most of her abdominal organs would be removed and either excised or cleansed and put back together in new fashion. If a patient survives the surgery, there is a very long and hard recovery period. She refers to the Whipple procedure as "The Abdominal Extravaganza."

Andrea faced this pivotal point in her life while dealing with everyday realities familiar to all of us: grown children at a distance, an aging mother who needed her help, the need to earn an income and the blessing of some very good local friends.

The Whipple Brunch takes us on the journey with her -- through the pain, love, tears and laughter that she and her friends and family shared during that time of frightening decisions, painful recovery and re-embracing life.

Before you turn away with the understandable reaction of "Oh, no! Not another cancer memoir! So depressing..." be assured that this is not your typical cancer memoir. It's a celebration of life and of friendship -- particularly the friends who stepped up and helped her when she was truly helpless. They went to appointments with her, were there for her as she struggled to decide whether to risk the surgery, took turns sitting with her in the hospital, visited her mother in assisted living and helped make Andrea's life festive at the most unexpected times -- like throwing a wedding celebration with tiaras and cake in Andrea's hospital room while watching the televised wedding of William and Kate. Celebrations are at the heart of this book. Just before her surgery, Andrea threw a lavish brunch for her friends and called it "The Whipple Brunch." Now, nearly five years later, her friends are throwing another brunch today to celebrate her new book!

It's well worth celebrating: she has an amazing ability to find humor in some of life's most painful moments and the spirit of this book -- so filled with wit and gratitude -- is immensely uplifting.

Both of these books would make terrific gifts for special people on your list this holiday season-- or you might consider giving yourself the gift of You Only Retire Once and The Whipple Brunch.


  1. Both of these sound excellent, Kathy. Thanks for the recommendations!

  2. Thanks so much for the great post and the good review. I'm heading over to amazon to get The Whipple Brunch for my kindle.

  3. Excellent! All three of you have books that make great holiday presents. Thanks.