Escape from Here.

Books have always been my escape. As a hearing impaired child, and now as a hearing impaired adults, books are the one place where I’m never out of the loop. Everyday conversation is tiring because I expend so much energy just listening and processing everything I’m hearing, and making up for what I can’t hear. My brain is constantly using its powers of deductive reasoning to fill in blanks. There are so many variables that affect the quality of my interactions with people– a female voice is often easier to understand than a male voice, people mumble or cover their mouths when they speak, they look away while speaking, they don’t enunciate, background noise interferes with my ability to discern speech, if I have a cold and I’m congested, I can’t hear, if my hearing aids need to be adjusted, I can’t hear.
But in a book, none of that matters. The only thing that trips me up is an unknown word here or there that I can look up in a dictionary. I can follow all the conversations and never feel lost (unless the writing just plain sucks, in which case, the book goes back on the shelf…). There are no awkward moments caused by answering a question with something from left field.
Books are a time-honored prescription for anyone that does not fit in a certain box. Whatever ails you, there’s a book that’ll make you feel like you belong, a book that won’t judge you, a book that’ll make you feel included and keep you in the loop.
I wanted to end this post with a list of books aimed at specific ailments, a la The Little Paris Bookshop but the truth is, I devour the books, take what I need from them, and then move on to the next one, so I’d be hard-pressed to proffer a list of books off the top of my head–the downside of being a escape artist, I guess. But you can take this neat Book Apothecary for a spin and see what comes up! Just click the book cover below.

Click the book to try out the apothecary! 

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. This post contains affiliate links. 

You’ve Got Mail!

Communication is so easy and immediate these days. Texting, tweeting, facebooking. Who needs a landline anymore, or regular old snail mail? Even email seems quaint!

When my husband left for Texas, he suggested that we email each other back and forth, in addition to texting. It made sense– we could share so much more in an email–things that weren’t urgent or on the fly. One of my favorite things about e-mailing is that I find it easier to express myself in writing, to say the things that I find it hard to say out loud.

What I didn’t expect was that waiting for an e-mail from him would be like waiting for a letter to show up in my mailbox! We are both so busy, and a long e-mail full of updates and the little things we share with each other means that we have to find time to sit and write the e-mail.  I find myself waiting in anticipation for a e-mail response from him. It’s kind of like the early days of our relationship, when I couldn’t wait to see him again and felt giddy at the prospect of it.

It’s the same feeling I used to get as a kid when I had a pen pal, never knowing when the letter would show up, and wondering what the letter would say. To this day, I love checking the mailbox and wondering what surprises it might hold for me. Of course, as a grown-up, I’m more likely to find bills and other boring stuff but every once in a while, I’ll get a package I forgot I was expecting or a new book to be reviewed.

In this age of instant gratification, there is something to be said for slow communication, to have no choice but wait for a response, to have something to look forward to, to know that whatever response you get, it wasn’t off the cuff– someone took the time and care to craft a letter and share their thoughts with you, to make your day a little more special.

And so I wait for my husband’s response to my latest e-mail. Whenever it comes, I know it’ll make me smile.

This post was inspired by The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy, a novel about two women connected by an Underground Railroad doll. Join From Left to Write on May 19th as we discuss The Mapmaker’s Children. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.This post contains affiliate links. 

Thrilling: A Series of Vignettes Inspired by Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes

On my pink two-wheeler, I coast down a steep ramp off an overpass, ahead of my family. Flying down, and picking up speed, I’m gripped by both thrill and fear. What happens at the bottom? Things are moving fast, the leafy trees are green blurs. I find myself on the ground, with both knees opened and blood pouring out.  I probably cried. I definitely had to finish the ride home, trailing behind my family now. 
A few years later, in a new neighborhood, I do a short run down a dirt hill that leads into a cul-de-sac, this time on a ten speed road bike. The neighborhood kids and I run down, and drag the bikes back up, and run down again. Coming down off the hill, I deftly turn into the circle and coast around before heading back up the hill. No bloody knees but the same thrill. 
Many more years later, I ride up onto the George Washington Bridge approach to the pedestrian path, huffing and puffing up a minor ascent until it flattens out somewhat and I can enjoy the view of the mighty Hudson stretched out below, snaking its way north and south, as far as the eye can see. I crest the bridge and start the descent into Fort Lee, following a pack of riders in this charity ride. It’s not such a big hill and I relax a little. Then, comes a climb up to the start of a route that takes us through Englewood. I stop at the top of the hill, look down at the long slope unfurling before me, take a deep breath to gather my nerve and take off, not sure where this hill is going to end. Always, the thrill. 
2004. In a sleepy coastal town in Ecuador, popular with surfers, I borrow a bike of questionable safety from the hostel while my friends sleep. I head off down the road to seek out a dirt hill we had driven past the day before. As soon as I saw that hill, I knew I wanted to ride down it. I huffed and puffed my way to the top, on this crappy bike that probably hadn’t been tuned up ever. At the top, I prepared for descent. From that vantage point, I could see that the hill was deeply and erratically rutted which gave me pause. But 24 year olds have a lot of confidence, and they feel invincible besides. And I had to get back down anyway. I took off, going slow and then picking up speed as I lost my trepidation. Then, I was going too fast. I lightly squeezed the brakes  in an attempt to slow down, but of course, of course, the brakes were shot. I leaned back, letting one foot dangle down to slow my descent. I hit a rut and I flew over the handlebars, landing with a sickening thud, my temple bouncing off the ground. I lay there, sprawled out and very still, wondering if anything was broken, besides my dignity. I gingerly picked myself and examined myself for damage. Bloody knees. Bloody elbows. But I can walk. I push the bike down the rest of the way, and drag myself back to the hostel. I return the bike, the hostel owners gasping and fretting over me. I wave them off. Back in the room, a stream of f-bombs comes pouring out of my mouth, waking my friends from their hungover stupor. I look in the mirror and realize why the hostel owners had gasped. My very first black eye. 

Thrilling, yes. 

This post was inspired by Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes, a memoir of her return to her roots in the South. Join From Left to Write on April 30th as we discuss Under Magnolia. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. 

On Sleep and Silence.

Did you see that article a few weeks back about how deaf people suffer from fatigue? How about all those hours spent processing what you are hearing, and doing cognitive gymnastics to make deductions multiple times in a single conversation, is just flat out tiring? As an adult, this is most certainly true, and it was even more so when I was a child. 
There are two surefire treatments to counter this fatigue, both of which are highlighted in Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive. Digital detox, meditation, sleep and silence are the keys to thriving in today’s fast-paced, information-laden, data-driven society. From Left to Write club members read this book last year, and wrote posts inspired by the book but for this second read, to mark the paperback publication of the bestseller, we were challenged to try out one of the recommendations from the book, for a week. 
Awhile back, I stopped bringing my phone to bed with me, which is something Arianna recommends but since I was already in the habit of doing that, it’s not much of a challenge, is it? Her sections on sleep and silence really resonated with me, and I realized that I need to more protective of my sleep and that I need to give myself some silent alone time, to give myself and my brain a break from the constant listening and deciphering I do all day long. I’m very susceptible to sensory overload– too many people talking, too many kids touching me, too much visual simulation– it all overwhelms me at some point and I don’t always handle it in the most adult way. I always realize too late the reason for my reactions. 
So, my challenge this past month was to allow myself the time and space to be alone in silence, and to go to bed  by 9pm.  After a full day of teaching, I get into my car and I enjoy a good seven or ten minutes of complete silence, save for the muffled traffic noises outside my car. I used to turn the music on but the silence gives me time to decompress before picking up the kids.  Other times, I just announce to my husband, “I need to be alone,” or “I need a break,” and I go hide in my room until someone little person comes knocking (apparently, I’m the only one that can pour a glass of water or help them find a lost item.)  
Going to bed by 9pm every night was a little trickier. I was doing pretty well there for awhile, maybe a week or so and then the new season of  House of Cards happened… I watched two episodes a night before tearing myself away to go to bed, which was sometimes 9-ish but sometimes, later-ish.  The difference between going to bed at 9, and going to bed at 11 is palpaple. The nights I went to bed at 9, I woke up before 6, and had time to make lunches and coffee before the kids woke up, which made our morning routine run much smoother.  The mornings where I had gone to bed later than I should’ve, those mornings were rough. I woke up feeling not-at-all refreshed, harried and cranky. In fact, it is 9pm as I type this and I’m exhausted from staying up the past two nights to watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I started watching after I finished House of Cards. (So funny, by the way. Have you seen it?)  So, no Kimmy Schmidt for me tonight, if I know what’s good for me. 
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.

Leap And The Net Will…

Appear? Or maybe not. Anxiety is a funny creature. A small incident gathers more and more strength, and takes on a life of it’s own, until it becomes a full-blown anxiety that governs even aspects of your life that seem to have no relationship to the anxiety-inducing situation.

I have weather-related driving anxiety. I’ve somehow convinced myself that me and my car are ill-equipped to driving in inclement weather. My standard response is to A) not leave the house, B) pray for a snow day and/or C) scope out the situation and have my husband track the weather pattern. Of course, I have never been in a weather-related driving accident! Not only I have not been in such an accident, I’ve also managed to arrive at a destination safely through inclement weather, just by sheer force of willpower, lots of breathing and white-knuckling my steering wheel. I can only assume that this anxiety comes from overexposure to news stories about 150-car pile-ups. Or not. Who knows?!

But like Will’s mother in this month’s From Left To Write book,  If I Fall, If I Die, the anxiety started as a small seed, then grew into something larger than life, something that seems irrational even in your own head, and even more so in someone else’s head, but somehow, you make yourself believe it is a perfectly reasonably fear or anxiety. My own anxiety has managed to stay under control but what happens when it takes over your life, and renders you incapable of living your life in the most basic of ways; even worse, what happens when it affects those you love the most?

This post was inspired by the novel If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie,about a boy who’s never been outside, thanks to his mother’s agoraphobia, but ventures outside in order to solve a mystery. Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discuss If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. 

What Aging Looks Like.

{This is an excerpt of a post I published in May of 2012, after my grandfather passed away. I wrote it a month before he died.)

I began visiting him at the rehab facility, with trepidation. I am not an “old people” person. I’m afraid of offending their sensibilities.  I worry about not being able to hear them or understand them. I suppose I don’t give them nearly enough credit. Diminished physical capacity doesn’t always mean that intellectual capacity has suffered the same fate. Often, sure, but not always. I started out with small talk: “How are you feeling today? Are they taking care of you? Are you getting what you need?”  Grandpa Sol is a quiet guy, and with a paralyzed vocal cord, conversation is difficult for him, I think. His voice comes out raspy, jagged, the effort visible. He’s not used to my speech impediment. He says, “We have to talk more often. So I can get used to the way you talk.”

He has trouble eating. He complains about the blandness of the food, having subsisted on a diet of processed foods and fast food for years. His skinny-ness is alarming. A photograph hangs on the wall, of Grandpa Sol with two of his great-grandchildren on his lap. Taken only two years ago, his face is noticeably fuller and his eyes have more light in them. When I see him now, his face is haggard, his cheeks sunken in. I see his eyes light up when I walk in with my daughters in tow. He reaches out to them while they hide shyly behind my legs or in my shoulder. Alice confesses to me later that “old people are scary” and I understand what she means. By the time we leave, Grandpa is able to get a handshake from his great-granddaughters and maybe a kiss on the cheek, too.

This is what aging looks like.

He reaches out for support as he stands up. He asks for help cutting his chicken. He complains about his already-roomy pants being tight and uncomfortable.  Young, pretty speech therapists tell him how to eat. Attendants help him shower. The PT directs him around the room as he pushes his walker obediently. Later, he complains to my sister, “I get more exercise at home.”

And it’s true. At home, he was often found in his backyard, tending to his bamboo. But that was before it became apparent that he was not taking care of himself. He seemed to age tremendously during that week in the hospital. He seemed to lose confidence in his ability to walk, to go to the bathroom on his own. At the rehab facility, he stays in his room all day. He talks to no one except his visitors. The nurse at the front desk asks me one day as I leave, “Is he always this quiet?” “Yes,” I say.

Observing Grandpa Sol this past week, I’ve come to realize: aging is one thing. Accepting that you’re aging is another entirely. Of course, he knows he’s growing older. “I’m almost 90 years old. I should be able to eat whatever I want.” “I’m going to be 100. I don’t need to be here.” “Slow down, ” I tell him, noting that irony only in afterthought. “Slow down. Let’s get to 89 first. We’ll worry about getting to 100 later, Grandpa,” I say, as I  sit on his bed, holding his outstretched hand, his arm laying slack on the bed. I study his paper-thin, dry skin, his tattoos now shrunken, colors faded.

He says to my mother, “How did I get here?” He’s still figuring it out. When he tells me he doesn’t need to be there, I give him a little lesson in how his poor nutrition is a contributing factor. I don’t know if he understands that. He doesn’t watch documentaries about America’s obesity epidemic. He doesn’t think about the pitfalls of the corn-based American diet. He has no wife or girlfriend nagging him about his health. All he knows that after years of eating whatever he wanted and doing whatever he wanted, he’s being served food with no salt, and drinking coffee that’s been thickened to a sludge. He’s getting more attention now, on a daily basis, than he’s ever gotten before. I don’t know how he feels about that. But I know he wants out. He wants to be back home, where he can do what he wants and go where he wants, without approval from anyone, except maybe Mickey, his gentle pitbull.
On Thursday, I stop in with a sleeping Stella, only meaning to stay for a short time. I want to find out how his ENT appointment went and I hope to meet the doctor on his floor. When I arrive, he is being interrogated by a nurse-practitioner, who is trying to fill in the blanks on his charts, his records having not yet arrived. I fill her in on the throat cancer, the quadruple bypass, the valve replacements. There is still more to his medical history that I would find out later, from my mother. At lunchtime, he is visited by a speech therapist, one that had visited him the Saturday after he arrived. She notes that he seemed better on Saturday than he does at this moment, Thursday. She watches him eat his food, coaches him to keep his chin down as he swallows, so that his airway will close and block the food. He eats all his food, having been granted the gift of margarine for his mashed potatoes, and the chicken being a flavorful thigh, smothered in a tomato sauce. I see him eat more in that one sitting than I have all those previous days I’d been there. He finishes off a cup of peaches in syrup, and a container of apple sauce. He finishes his food, looks down at his tray and says, “I ate a lot,” a hint of surprise in his voice, and maybe a need for approval. I wonder, did he eat to please us or was he hungry? Was the food finally tasting better to him? I hope for the latter.

I want to take him on a walk. I wait while he cleans his dentures, and cautiously takes hold of his walker while I push a still-sleeping Stella in her stroller. I lead him out to the patio, where there is a warm breeze and a bright sun. We sit in the shade for awhile, Stella having woken up from her nap grumpy and anti-social. She buries her head in my shoulder while I watch Grandpa take in breaths of fresh air. He tries to engage Stella, to no avail. Feeling guilty, I make excuses for her but he seems to understand. He basks in the sun, pointing out the Long Island Rail Road. I gently correct him, “Yes, the metro-north, Grandpa but it’s on the other side.” I lead him over to the side of the patio where he can see the water but the tracks are not visible. “The Hudson River, Grandpa,  and the Palisades. Do you see them?” He squints through his glasses and nods.

He is getting tired and it’s  time to pick up Alice from school, so we shuffle back inside, where I help him get settled into bed. Stella and I say our goodbyes as his eyes close for a nap. “Get some rest, Grandpa,” I say, by way of parting.

This post was inspired by The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec, a novel about the brilliant mathematician Kurt Gödel as told from his ex-cabaret dancer wife’s perspective. Join From Left to Write on October 16th as we discuss The Goddess of Small Victories. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Finding Community.

Since Alice was born, we have lived in three different communities, each one distinctly different from the rest. She was born in New York City, and we lived in Riverdale, a heavily Jewish but still diverse section of the Bronx, along the Hudson River. When I first moved to Riverdale, I was dating my future husband and we had no children. My sister lived in the neighborhood and she was pretty much my only friend, since Riverdale is a family ‘hood thanks to the good schools and affordable housing prices. When Alice was six months old,  I finally ventured out to a library story time and it was there that I made my first “mom friend.” Alana was a great mom friend to have because she was a go-getter that made things happen. Through her, I joined a playgroup that she started in her playroom (It’s where I met Justine of Full Belly Sisters and Caitlin of The Joy of Caitlin!) and suddenly, I had a whole group of moms with kids the same age as Alice, a whole group of women accompanying each other on this journey of early motherhood. Besides these awesome women, I also had great neighbors (Hi, Wittes, Lapins and Rocco!) As a first-time mom who suddenly found herself spending long stretches of time with no other adult in site, this group of mothers and neighbors was a lifesaver.

The Riverdale Gang

When I was seven months pregnant with Stella, and Alice was a few months shy of her second birthday, we up and moved to Greenfield, Mass. This was a big change for me. Greenfield is a small city but it is nothing like the Bronx. Thought Henry had friends there, none of them had kids. It was by chance that I fell in with a group of parents, thanks to a chance run-in with Henry’s college acquaintance when we were out for Sunday brunch. Again, I allowed myself to be swept up into a group of amazing parents who welcomed me with open arms and library time schedules. It was my first time living in a place with no family nearby and being taken in by these amazing folks was incredible, especially when Stella was born. Though I barely knew these families, they were delivering food and company to us for weeks after Stella’s birth. It was spiritually uplifting and to this day, the memory makes me well up in appreciation.

Happy Valley Friends

Alas, we found ourselves back in the Bronx a year after we left. My friends were still around and I made some new ones, before we up and left again for Connecticut. Here, I have found my community  at the preschool, aptly named Community Nursery School. Again, my sister lives here and she was my only friend in the beginning. Living in this semi-rural area means that it can be easy to feel isolated. I look forward to preschool drop-off, where I can count on having at least one good conversation and maybe a cup of coffee with the other moms before we rush off to get errands done before pick-up. Moving here was another big change for us, and I think making friends as adults is hard–having kids makes it much easier but there’s no guarantee of a connection.
These three parenting communities were different in personality and style but they have the most important thing in common–we could count on each other for help, to look out for each other’s kids and to support each other in this season of early parenting. It may be a cliche but it still holds true:

It takes a village. 

In Marie-Helene Bertino’s novel, 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas, the protagonist, 9-year-old Madeleine is shored up by the people in her life after the death of her mother and her father’s subsequent depression. This small community of people proves to be her saving grace.

This post was inspired by 2 A.M. At The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino, a novel about hope, love, and music in the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia. Join From Left to Write on August 28 as we discuss 2 A.M. At The Cat’s Pajamas. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Marie-Helen Bertino is on Twitter and Facebook. Give her a shout-out!