The Little Library that is making it big!

In our first few months of having REAL available, our hope of giving back to community and charity is being realized.  Recently, it has been an honor to work with the Friends of Shell Beach Library, to promote memberships and give part of our proceeds from FSL events to the library.  It is such a special, small, but mighty, place in our community. The people who make it come alive are devoted and such a pleasure!  In the last few years the library has expanded from the days of the two tiny rooms our kids visited when they were young.  However, it still has the small town friendliness, accessibility, and cozy ambiance that it was founded on.  It is interesting as we hear about libraries closing across the country in many cities, that this library is actually growing.  Thought its hours are limited, it is frequented by neighbors who love the convenience of walking over on a sunny afternoon to check out their books or videos, or just to use the internet. Thank you Friends of Shell Beach Library for all you do for our community!  We are honored to become of a part of that!


Miracles in Healing: Body and Soul

Recently we have received more reader photos of hands.   I am moved by the love, the tenderness, the hardship and the overcoming that is universal!  Here is a photo which reflects a reality of mother and child relationship.  Alex and her toddler son,  share a personal moment comparing their scars, how similar in position and size, and possibly the memory of pain.  I am reminded of how, as mothers, we try to raise our children in a safe and happy world, try instinctively protect them from injury or pain.  The reality is that it is beyond our complete control and injury is a part of life.  The blessing is in having someone there to pick you up, kiss the wound, wipe your tears and encourage, with a hug, that “it will be just fine”.   It is a miracle of healing for our bodies and our souls, that we can overcome the hurt, it can get better and even be a part of what makes each person like no one else.  Thank you Alex and Christian.  

Dreams and Acts of Kindness

We received this wonderful email from a reader this week and asked her permission to share it.  Her story here speaks for itself… of a thoughtful, caring and passionate woman who is obviously among friends in kind.  Thank you to  Melissa.   Enjoy her very moving and gifted words and the photo of her friend Vada. 

Dear Shelley Malcolm and Terilee Dawn Ouimette,When artists send their work out into the world I imagine that it might be nice sometimes to hear how it was received.  So in that vein, I wanted to thank you so much for your book, “Real”, and to tell you how it came into my life.  I thought the best way for me to do that would be to attach the email (below) I wrote to my family.  I apologize for its long length, but I just didn’t know how to pare down the story without losing some of its heart.

Although your book features hands, I sincerely believe that this special book has legs that will carry its light to far reaching places and people. Thank you for that.Sincerely, Melissa

“We make a living by what we get.  We make a life by what we give.”

–Winston Churchill

Whenever I am stunned by a certain kindness that comes into my life I just want to share it with everyone I know. Remember the time I was in line at the Starbucks drive-up and when I got to the window to pay for my order was told that the woman ahead of me picked up my tab?

Or about two years ago how I nearly fainted when Susan handed me the long and much sought after, out-of-print book of poems written by developmentally disabled women entitled “Shout, Applaud”?  Despite her extremely busy and stressful life, she had searched and searched for it every week for well over two years after I had mentioned how much I would love to get my hands on a copy because the poems moved me to tears.

I’ve been the recipient of an awful lot of thoughtfulness in my life but to write about each and every one would make this email 20 pages long.

But I would like to tell you how I was blown away by another act of kindness just a few days ago.  First, I must back up the bus a bit and give you a little history.

About six years ago, I was working at Bayside Care Center as a social worker.  One of my patients there was a 107 year old named Vada.  She was just a tiny thing, looked like a little bird really, but she was a firecracker.  She had a beautiful black and white photograph above her bed that was a close-up of her own hands.  I absolutely loved that picture and was told that a family member of Vada’s had taken it several years prior.  I asked Vada if she would mind if I brought my camera to work so I could take a photograph of that photograph.  She told me to go right ahead.  So, I did just that, although it did not come out very well due to the picture being behind glass.

But it was good enough to frame, and I kept that picture on my desk throughout my stay with Bayside.  It never ceased to capture the attention of whoever came into my office.  When I left and went to work at Cortina d’ Arroya Grande, I took the picture with me and it got just as much attention there.

My boss, Kathy, noticed it right away and I told her about how I always had a fascination with hands and that I had a dream of creating a book someday:  when it is opened, the left side pages would be my photographs of someones hands and the right side pages would be the condensed life story of the person who owned those hands.  That was five years ago.  I only worked at Cortina for a year but Kathy and I remained good friends.  We have gone on to talk about thousands of things, but the Vada photo and my dream book were never mentioned again.

Fast forward to a few days ago when I went to the post office and received a package in the mail for my birthday from Kathy.  I took it back out to my truck, opened it, and pulled out the most incredible book!  I immediately started to cry.  The front cover was a gorgeous black and white photo of a pair of old, well worn hands and just the simple title:  “REAL”.  And when opening the book, there on the left side pages were photographs of hands… and the condensed life stories of the owners of those hands on the right side pages.  I was blown away.

Then I noticed the first page- the book was addressed to me, followed by two little notes that were signed by the  photographer and the author of the book! THEN the next page contained one of my all-time favorite quotes (and obviously the reason for the book’s title):

“Real isn’t how you are made.  It’s a thing that happens to you.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”


-Skin Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

As I sat there staring at the book and wondering how on earth Kathy found such a thing, a folded up newspaper article fell out of the back page.  It was from an obscure newspaper and featured information about the release of the book, information about the author and the photographer, etc.  The article stated that the book could be purchased and signed at a local park for only 2 hours on June 5th, the day before my birthday.  Somehow Kathy came across this article and went down there and stood in the rain to get this book for me.  And I happen to know she was sick that day too.

Beyond being such a beautiful book, this gift moved me so much because it is a representation of one of the very best acts we can do for one another:  Listening.

Is also represents something else, but this will take me a minute to explain, so bear with me.  Remember the movie Phenomenon, starring John Travolta, Kyra Sedgwick, and Robert Duvall?  Travolta  is very interested in Kyra Sedgwick, but all she wants to do is live a quiet, uncomplicated life in the country making cane chairs and selling enough of them to squeak out a living.  She brings her chairs to town and tries to sell them outside of Travolta’s garage.  No one is buying them.  But Travolta knows how much it means to her, so unbeknownst to Sedgwick, he buys her chairs.  All of them.  Every one she brings to town, he buys and stacks up in his house.  Eventually they become a couple.  Another character in the film says something derogatory about Travolta and that’s when Robert Duvall steps in to defend him, saying something that I’ve always remembered.  He said that what Travolta did for Sedgwick is one of the true definitions of loving someone- find out what their dreams are and do whatever you can to help them attain those dreams.

And whether my dream was to create this book myself or just to have such a book come into my life doesn’t really matter I don’t think.

Surprising me even further is the timing of this gift.  Just as Susan managed to find the time every week to look for “Shout, Applaud” in the midst of such busyness, Kathy made it a mission to get this book for me despite the fact that she is going through a really difficult time right now.  She and her husband just divorced after 32 years of marriage.  They had been together since the 3rd grade.

After I looked at the book for a while, I drove to a little restaurant for lunch.  I was feeling loved and high on life and it felt as though my feet hovered just above the concrete when I walked.  It reminded me of how I felt when I was on a morphine drip in the hospital!  I brought the book into the restaurant with me and set it on the table.  The waitress came over to take my drink order and noticed it immediately.  She said “That is such a beautiful book!  Would you mind if I looked at it?”  I said that I didn’t, and handed it over to her as she was wiping her hands clean on her apron.  She flipped through it and oooohed and awwwwed over it as I told her how I had just received it and that it made me cry.  She said “I can see why!  Do you mind if I show my friends?”  So, she carried the book around the restaurant showing the other waitresses, the cook, and the cashier.  They all looked back over at me and gave me the thumbs up sign!

Throughout my meal the waitress came over to check on me and each time she did I showed her a different photograph.  Finally, she just put her hand on my shoulder and said “I know this sounds weird, but that book gives me the chills!”  It was neat to see someone else have similar enthusiasm over the book.  I thought it was pay-it-forward kind of moment, so before I left I gave the waitress the bookmark that was inside the book which featured a photograph of hands and information about the author and photographer.

I’ve been savoring the book bit by bit ever since.  The book and the gesture have cracked me open and I’ve felt as though all kinds of inspirations and encouragements are being whispered to me from all corners.  It’s created a sort of ripple effect of goodness.  So, although the book is entitled “Real”, I am calling it the little book that could.

When I first arrived back home with it, I called Mom and Kevin to tell them about my gift.  Mom told me that I HAD to write the story down for everyone to read, so….there you have it!

And if anyone is interested in getting a glimpse of the book via its website, click here:

Take care everyone!


After 71 years, a LOVE realized…

One of the amazing highlights during the production of REAL happened by a series of coincidences.  This remains one of the true highlights of life of the book, and even more so of my life.  Chet, from the HOPE chapter, had turned 90. Since our meeting a few years ago, I liked to visit him periodically and see what new works of art he had been working on, as well as how he was.  He had been having multiple health issues, but fought for his independence and freedom to paint.  One fall afternoon, 2010, he placed a 3″ binder on my lap as I sat on his sofa, and explained that it had been a birthday gift.  The binder was a collection of copies of hundreds of sketches and photocopies of his work.  One section was full of Chet’s pencil sketches from WWII, which depicted many of his comrades from the Army, and scenes from Europe.  Suddenly, there she was…. Beautiful, Adored, glorious… several sketches of his regiment’s favorite pin up girl, “The Outlaw” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” star, Jane Russell.  Her portraits were exquisite.  He remarked that he and the guys had had a crush on her and that he still did.   The sketches were done 71 years ago.  I could see the sparkle in his eyes, the change in posture, as he spoke about her inspiration… how much the men loved her images hanging on the walls of their barracks and the officers’ club.

Jane Russell, the drop dead beautiful, classy Hollywood actress, is Jane, from our BALANCE chapter.  More remarkable than I ever dreamed she could be.

“Chet…. How would you like to meet Jane?”, I asked…

“Wh..what?  How could that be..?” He was surprised,but very curious.

I told him that she was in my book and I would make a couple of calls and see what we could do.  After saying goodbye, I made my calls while on the road home.  With in 20 minutes I called Chet back, “Chet, grab your hat and shine your shoes, you have a date with Jane! ”

He called me twice a day over the next week before we met at a restaurant in Santa Maria, California. Their meeting was one of the most precious memories for all of us.  They talked for almost two hours.   He was such a gentleman and Jane lived up to her regal, feminine, spunky reputation.  At the end, he gave her the pencil drawing with his autograph, and she had a photo for him.   She kissed him on the cheek with her signature red lips…. After 71 years of dreaming about this vision, this goddess…. he had lunch with Jane, got a kiss on the cheek… All the way home he he talked about how his heart and soul felt like a 19 year old again.   It was wonderful.

I was worried about how Chet would take hearing about Jane’s sad death at the beginning of 2011.   He was greatly grieved, but so happy that he had had the chance of a lifetime, a memory that made him feel so alive.

thank you Jane, thank you Chet. They showed me that our hearts are never too old for desire and love.   

Keeping things Simple can be Complicated!

Most of the time, I really believe I should be back in the day of these photos. The women who lived and worked here were my family….  I am more that type of pioneer woman, not a modern pioneer woman.

Fast forward to today… We are reworking our media, just to see what we seem  be able to fit… Kind of like trying on new shoes … Wish it were easier for me to learn!  I often wonder if anyone else has as hard a time as me.  I am so thankful to have some real pros who can advise or even just do! God bless them.

It is hard to believe the choices there are for everything, it is just hard for me to find them! I admire those who have the instinct of where to look on their screens, the courage to not worry about making mistakes, the whimsy to just play with it and the time it takes to do so!  What a world we are in !

REAL’s Kaz: from Internment to Enrichment

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Another of REAL’s featured subjects is Kazuo.  His story of endurance, friendship and heritage are so powerful. His Japanese family’s contributions to our community are immeasurable and lasting.  This pre- New Year’s, December 2010, my daughter, Meredith and I were invited to a “mochi pounding” celebration at “the ranch”.  As a Japanese tradition, just before New Years Day, the families come together to prepare the rice in steaming vats, pound volumes of it to make a dough, then pull and roll it into dumplings.  They  are then either stuffed with a sweet black bean filling or left beautifully and deliciously plain.

It has been the practice, as a right of passage, that the young men do the pounding of the rice.  However, as this generous Asian family of several generations, dozens of aunts, uncles, cousins welcomed friends and neighbors, even I and my daughter were encouraged to take part each step of the ritual.  The first session of pounding is done with carved wood dowels that are about the size of closet rods.  The pounders form a circle around a massive granite bowl on a wooden stand. The rice is shoveled into the bowl and we marched in  circles pounding the rice for several minutes.  The next step was the mallet pounding which is more dangerous and done by only two to four men.  Large, squared “croquet” like mallets pound the transformed dough alternately as they each go faster and faster trying to not hit eachother or the single man below who is slipping his hand into fold and scrape the sides of the dough between pounds.  It is really quite thrilling to watch! When the still steaming dough is just right, the giant blob, about the size of a baby, is carried into the long table where dozens of women and girls have their duties as pullers or dumpling makers. Flour is everywhere and the chatter is energizing and filled with laughter.  They work quickly as the consistency changes with the cooling of the dough on the table.

At the end of the morning, dozens of bowls and tables full later, hundreds of dumplings had been made to share with friends, families and the community and even local hospitals.  Some specially prepared “snowmen” were formed by three dumplings stacked with apricot slices on top for good luck in the New Year.

Thank you to Kaz and his family for passing on the experience of their tradition, the treasure of sharing, for enriching your community and those who know you by your unconditional acceptance and love.

See the video trailer here:    

You can purchase REAL at  or or amazon and barnes and

Secret to staying young? Keep playing!

In our book REAL, we feature about 60 people.  The hands that grace our cover are those of featured “Inspiration” chapter character, Lois.  She continues to live a very full and challenging life right on the beach with her giant garden, her dogs and her toy shop.  It is hard to believe she is over 80.

After walking the dogs and playing a round of tennis, she usually heads back to her shop to create and build.  Over decades she has gone from designing and building serious implements and hardware, such as splints, for people with hand problems.  For the last several years, that desire to engineer and “make things work” has evolved to a greater pleasure: toy making.  There are numerous toys in her home and they are all of one type of animal or another or several…. and they all move!  Not just one movement, but several complex movements and for long duration.  They each use one tiny “motor”, strings, wood and recycled materials.  It is mind boggling to see them in action and to know that the eyes, mind, and fingers that have made all of them started doing so at nearly age 80.    Here is her most recent creation…. The mouths move, the feet tap, the hands and arms move and the heads bob and tails wiggle.  IT only takes a few days of rest from completing something like this and Lois is already envisioning and engineering another.  She says, ” We don’t quit playing because we get old, we get old because we quit playing.”   We salute you Lois.   All the best.