From Left to Write: A Literary Medicine Cabinet

It’s been so long since I touched this blog…literally, six months…but this month’s From Left to Write book club pick brought me crawling back. I just couldn’t stay away, which is nothing short of a miracle considering I barely had time to read with everything going on in my personal life.

But here I am, and this book, frankly, literally couldn’t have come at a more crucial moment for me. I found this quote from the Washington Post that basically sums up the power of novels:

Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you’ve got those autumn blues. And some…well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void.

It makes me think about the hundreds of books that fill my bookcases: some have been with me since childhood (Louisa May Alcott and Christopher Pike, I’m looking at you!); some have shocked me to my core (the most recent of which being Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends, which I may or may not be dying to write about but can’t because the book isn’t available to the public until January); some just make me ridiculously happy (and one in particular, Adriana Trigiani’s latest, All the Stars in the Heavens, which I don’t even have yet — it’ll be here next week — but which already has a long-reserved spot on my shelf!); and some, as Monsieur Perdu described it, give me that temporary cotton-candy sugar high and then fall off the edge of my memory (which, to preserve a sense of decorum around here, shall not be named). But every book I own, regardless of the color of its cover or how fluffy or rock-solid its contents may be, serves a purpose to me. Certain books raise interesting, sometimes controversial questions, while others simply put a smile on my face. Some make me want to scale a volcano just so I can be rid of them, while others tie themselves so strongly and thoroughly to my heart that it might actually cause me physical harm to let them go. I want to force people to read some titles, while I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve read others (like I’m fairly certain that there’s a special place in hell with my name on it just for reading the garbage prose that is Fifty Shades of Grey). I like to think of my books as medicine. They’re my cup of comfort, my apple a day — though being able to read a book a day is nothing more than a pipe dream! — and I like to keep my bookcases, my personal literary medicine cabinet, stocked at all times. A book really can cure just about any ill if the reader lets it.

Disclosure: This post was inspired by the novel The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, where Monsieur Perdu–a literary apothecary–finally searches for the woman who left him many years ago. Join From Left to Write on October 8th as we discuss The Little Paris Bookshop. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

From Left to Write: No Staterooms for Me

I think the title of this post, for me, says it all:

Never in a million years would you catch me on board a cruise ship.

I don’t care if it’s docked or if it’s sailing at 20 knots across the middle of the ocean — I won’t go near one. I’m not sure that I’d just shrug it off as a completely irrational fear, either. At the risk of sounding alarmist, ocean liners haven’t proven their value to me. Between ships running aground (like the Costa Concordia), and outbreaks of illnesses among its passengers (such as the Royal Caribbean line’s Explorer of the Seas), fires (like the one that forced another Royal Caribbean ship to dock early), and outright sinkings (she didn’t let go, Jack!), it’s just not a risk I’m willing to take, even if it means missing out on sailing the open seas with Mickey Mouse on the Disney Cruise Line. At least we can make it up to Joshua by taking him to Disney World.

Dead Wake, fascinating as it was, merely solidified my beliefs. During World War I, when the events surrounding the Lusitania‘s sinking took place, submarines torpedoed ships that they thought might be carrying munitions, or for waving the flag of an enemy nation. Now, I don’t know much about cruise ships (nor do I particularly care to), but I get the feeling that Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line ships aren’t carrying munitions — but anyone who watches the news knows that there are lots of people who don’t like our country right now and could attack a cruise ship full of helpless passengers to send a message. Add to all of that the fact that I’m just not a big water person, and it affirms that I’ll never set foot on a cruise ship. I’ve been on fishing boats and ferries and, though I don’t feel seasick, I don’t like it; if I can’t handle being on a boat for a short period of time, there’s no way I could willingly put myself on one for a week.

I’ll keep my feet firmly on the ground and let all of you have all the fun.

Does anyone share this fear (paranoia?) with me, or am I completely alone on this one? Share your thoughts in the comments!

This post was inspired by Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson, a thrilling account of Lusitania’s last voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and the U-boat that attacked it. Join From Left to Write on March 26th as we discuss Dead Wake. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

From Left to Write: A Family Unplugged

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…

So I was reading Arianna Huffington’s Thrive and, mean as it sounds, her advice to unplug and sleep more made me laugh. I mean, come on now — we live in an age where everyone’s smartphones are practically glued to their hands, and I can probably count on two hands the number of times Joshua has slept through the night since New Year’s Day. There’s no way I can do either of these things…right?

And then our cable and internet went out.

AND, not OR.

Joshua’s favorite show (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood) is on Netflix, and it keeps him occupied while I’m putting away my mini-Mount Everest of laundry every few days. Watching Scorpion or Scandal helps me to unwind after a long day. I spend a lot of time checking email and social media, even if I don’t have something to contribute. These things are part of our daily routine.

Now take all of them away. What’s left? A cranky kid who just wants to sing the “everyone is big enough, big enough to do something!” song for the 8,372nd time this week and one suddenly very frustrated mama who can’t make anyone happy. Having the cable go out or losing a connection on the router can suck big time, but being a stay-at-home parent who loses both of those things at once can spell total disaster. However, it also forced me to get creative with finding ways to keep Joshua busy. He started telling more diverse stories with his beloved cars and planes than ever before, and he also wanted to spend a lot more time snuggling with me. We read stories and took selfies, cooked together and played with his train table. At some point during the week, Joshua even mastered riding a tricycle!

So here’s what I learned during the dreaded Week of No Signal:

1. We rely way too much on our technology. Of course, internet access is necessary for things like email and website maintenance, but we definitely reduced our TV time that week. (We couldn’t even watch basic channels — it was an issue with the wiring, and a cable had to be replaced and buried underground.) I still charged my phone on my nightstand every night, because I prefer keeping it close in case there’s an emergency overnight.

2. Even without the technology, Joshua didn’t want to nap. And if he wasn’t napping, I wasn’t, either.

3. But without the technology, he got more creative. He started doing some really interesting things with his toys, books, and art supplies. He proved that week that technology can definitely stifle children’s creativity.

4. Spring can’t come fast enough! I tend to keep my phone hidden away in my pocket when we’re on the playground, walking around the neighborhood, or at Grandma and Pop Pop’s backyard pool, because Joshua tends to run and getting hooked on Facebook or email provides the perfect opportunity to lose track of him. That said, there’s a lot more room to run around, climb, play, and burn energy outside than there is inside our little house. The sooner the weather stays sunny and warm, the better!

So now it’s your turn to tell me about your experiences! Have you ever tried unplugging for a week? How did it go?

This post was inspired by Thrive by Arianna Huffington, who challenges women to unplug and sleep more to create a balanced life. Join From Left to Write on March 19th as we discuss Thrive. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

From Left to Write: Can You Keep a Secret?

I struggled with choosing a topic or theme to write about for The Mill River Redemption, not only because there were so many to choose from but also because several of my options made me really uncomfortable. I could have written about my relationships with my mother or my sister, but we are all in the midst of a difficult time right now and talking about them publicly could damage those relationships. We all drive each other completely crazy at times, but they’re my blood and their ties are valuable to me. I could have written about love, but I’ve already done a lot of that on the blog.

I haven’t written much about secrets, though…and secrets sure are a big theme in the book.

I keep a lot of secrets for a lot of people. I’ve become a confidant, willing or not, for quite a few loved ones, and that doesn’t account for those secrets of my own that I keep. Some secrets are inconsequential, while others are potentially life-changing. I’m usually pretty good at keeping quiet watch over everyone’s confidences, but fairly recently I failed to keep the gates locked on a really big one. It was a huge secret, one that would change lives for the worse once revealed. I promised that the secret would be safe, but my conscience took hold and shook me until my foundation started to crack.

There was not a chance in Hell that I’d be able to keep silent about this person’s infidelity, especially because it affected me and several people very close to me…and so I opened my mouth and spilled everything. The relationship between the cheater and their partner, as you’ve probably guessed, is in shambles.

Should I have kept my mouth shut and allowed the cheating to continue? How much longer would it have gone on had I not said anything? How many more people would have been affected? How much more damage would have been done? So many questions I didn’t have the answers to…that I didn’t want the answers to.

I know that keeping a promise is an honorable thing to do, and it’s unfortunate that I’ve likely lost the friendship and trust of the person whose secret I’d promised to keep, but in the long run I think my actions were worth it. It was simply too big to keep a lid on and my conscience is clear with the knowledge that I refused to play the silent accomplice in hurting someone I care about. Sure, confessing was painful for all parties involved, but I think that allowing the infidelity to continue would have hurt a hell of a lot more.

Lesson learned? Sometimes, it’s just better to share a secret than it is to keep it.

Have you been entrusted with a huge secret? Were you able to keep it or did you end up telling?

This post was inspired by the novel The Mill River Redemption by Darcie Chan, about two estranged sisters who are forced to work together in order to uncover the hidden inheritance by their mother. Join From Left to Write on December 2nd as we discuss The Mill River Redemption and enter to win a copy of the novel. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

From Left to Write: A Letter to My Dog

When I received my copy of this wonderful little book from the From Left to Write book club, I immediately found myself remembering how much I love cats; if they didn’t make my husband’s body forget how to breathe, I think we’d have one. Though I can’t personally speak to the joys of cat ownership, I do have a canine furbaby of my own who basically co-rules our little roost with Joshua. So for this edition of From Left to Write, I’d like to share a letter to my sweet Frankie!

**Gratuitous cute puppy-dog pictures ahead!! You have been warned!**

Hi, Frankie Face.

I just wanted to write — even though you can’t read — and tell you how much I love you. There’s one problem, though: I don’t simply love you. I absolutely adore you! You have Daddy and me wrapped around your big, furry paws! I loved you when you tore the stuffing out of our couch cushions while Daddy and I were at work (and boy, do I wish I had a picture of that mess). I loved you when you thought baby Joshua was one of your toys, and you tried to bite him like a stuffed animal while Joshua was suffering through tummy time. I even loved you when you threw up all over my pillow, and just missed my head, at 3 in the morning! No matter what happened, I’ve always had a heart full of love for you.

I always wanted a dog of my own, but I never realized how badly I needed one until you came home with us. You’re my sanity when Joshua and Landon get too crazy. You’re my vacuum, picking up whatever scraps of food hit the floor while we’re cooking or eating. You’re my favorite living, breathing “stuffed animal”, always up for a cuddle when I need one. You’re my personal security guard, barking at everything that could potentially harm us (squirrels, leaves, sirens, and the wind being the prime suspects). You’re my foot warmer, settling down by my toes in bed (regardless of whether they’re actually cold). You’re my trickster, offering pawsies and high-fives for your favorite mint sticks. And the best one of all? You’re my reading buddy!

There will never be words strong enough to truly describe how much you’ve meant to me these last five years, and how much darker and sadder my life would be without you in it. They say that dog is man’s best friend; I have human best friends, but you really are my BFF. I love you so much, and I’m forever grateful to Daddy for letting me take you home. Now let’s go snuggle in bed with a book — my feet are cold!

Giving you all the love and kisses,

P.S. Just so you know, I will never, ever stop taking pictures of you while you’re sleeping. That’s something you’re just going to have to keep dealing with. You’re just that photogenic!

So how about you — do you have any pets? If you were asked to write them a letter, what would you say?

This post was inspired by A Letter to My Cat: Notes to Our Best Friends by Lisa Erspamer, a collection of letters penned by celebrities to their furry friend. Join From Left to Write on November 10th as we discuss A Letter to My Cat, and be sure to check out the website! As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.