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Writers on Wednesday: “Life is in the telling,” Italian treats, ‘borrowing’ the title from a Bronte poem, how fate steps in, and so much more in SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY by Ariella Cohen

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By Leslie Lindsay 

What an amazingly insightful and inspiring read; SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY (releasing June 28, 2016) literally took *my* breath away and I’m so excited to share it with you. sweet breath of memory(1)

Ariella Cohen is absolutely at the top of her game with this tender and gorgeously written tale about the enduring nature of love, the importance of friendship, and the eternal longing for peace. It’s a rare find to come across a book which encapsulates so many aspects of a good read–but this one did. Cohen weaves a narrative that takes readers on quite a journey; from the small fictional town of Amberley, MA to the Lodz Ghetto, London, and Jerusalem, it’s about finding one’s place in the world, but about coming to terms with what you’ve been dealt.

The characters are brimming with depth, compassion, warmth, resiliency, and smarts. In fact, there are so many dogeared pages in my copy with some insightful quip a character said, something about the meaning of life, or mustering through, and so much more. In fact, here’s one now:

“If you give up and throw in the towel, it impacts others. We all send out ripples—of kindness, need, and love. We don’t always appreciate who they impact or how far they travel; that’s part of the mystery of life. We can’t see the whole picture, but it’s there regardless.”

Today I’m pleased as punch to welcome Ariella to the blog to chat with us about her new book, SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY.

Leslie Lindsay: Ariella, I’m so happy to have you pop by. I know it’s sort of bad form to ask writer’s what inspired their story, but I’m going to ask it anyway. What was niggling you enough to sit down and write SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY?

Ariella Cohen: Great question, Leslie, and thanks so much for inviting me to drop in. What drove me to write SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY was the desire to examine how war shreds women’s lives. I wanted to shine a light on those who mother, marry and mourn the warriors, and the civilians who find themselves caught in the crossfire. But just as soldiers thrive in a community of brothers-in-arms, on the home front, there’s an incredible sense of sisters-in-arms that needs to be celebrated. Of course, women nowadays so often go to war themselves – an awe-inspiring thing I didn’t tackle as the novel covers a seventy-year period when that wasn’t really the case.

L.L.: There are some writers who swear they can’t start writing till they have a title…or until a character ‘speaks’ to them…or until they know the ending. Where do you lie on this continuum, and what got your writing juices flowing for this particular title?

Ariella Cohen: I’d wanted to write about the Lodz Ghetto for some time. Readers may know a bit about Poland’s Warsaw Ghetto but not the others that Germany established during WWII. Lodz was a slave labor camp and a huge money maker for the Reich. The character Miriam is imprisoned in the Ghetto and, although we only meet her indirectly, her story lies at the core of the novel. Since you mentioned the title, I should acknowledge that it was taken from an Anne Brontë poem; my editor and I have convinced ourselves that Anne wouldn’t mind my ‘borrowing’ such a great phrase! It captures that essence of memory that is as fleeting and life-sustaining as a breath.

L.L.: Okay, so I have to confess. I’m reading SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY and I fell asleep. (I know, I know!!) In my defense it had been a long day, a long week actually. But, my dream was a strange mash-up of a Jewish wedding (in which I was a little Catholic girl from Missouri in attendance), a snow storm, and some guest at the wedding trying to tell me how to say ‘please’ in Yiddish…I wasn’t able to say it properly and the woman kept giggling at me. I think this dream was a result of the merging of both Catholicism (Fr. Sullivan) and Judaism (Miriam’s story, WWII, Lodz Ghetto), and your own background filtering through. Can you speak to that, please?

Ariella Cohen: Well, not the dream bit – I don’t know Yiddish! But as to Father Sullivan, Ireland 2014 168.JPGhe was super easy to write. Some family members are Catholic and I have visited Ireland often, so I know a lot of priests. Issues of faith weave their way through the book but I didn’t want it to be about religion, if you take my meaning. Since the protagonist, Cate, is estranged from the Church, she connects with Father Sullivan much as Miriam did half a century before – as a friend. His role is to draw Cate out of the box she’s built for herself – the four walls being: widow, failed writer, friendless loner and reluctant caregiver. Inspired by the advice offered on the plaque outside his office – Life is fragile, Handle with prayer – Father Sullivan counsels, prods and encourages her to rebuild her life.

L.L.: The book is inspirational, sure but it’s not exactly religious. There are some other genre-bending elements here with flavors from women’s fiction, mystery, historical fiction, and well…there’s a great breadth of storytelling here and it’s all done so well. What’s your overall message, and what do you hope readers take from SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY?

Ariella Cohen: The overall message is that we are interconnected. Acts of kindness, and of cruelty, ripple through time in ways we can’t foresee or control. I explore this on many levels, one being through the Jewish concept of tikkun ha-olam – repair of the broken world. Each of the novel’s characters is in some way broken, but not until strangers move to town – Miriam and Cate, fifty years apart – is the extent of that brokenness laid bare. Miriam comes to Amberley to right an historic wrong. Although her efforts fail, her struggle impacts other women whose lives have been altered by war. When widow Cate finds her way to Amberley, she completes the circle by both picking up Miriam’s fallen standard and ‘rewriting’ the last chapter of her life – something Cate must accept she can never do for her husband.

We suffer loss alone, but we heal in a community, Ariella Cohen says toward the end of her compelling debut novel.  This talented new author explores issues ranging from misleading first impressions to the Holocaust through four women who, as so often happens, becomes unlikely friends.” – Meg Waite Clayton, NYT bestselling author of The Wednesday Sisters and The Race for Paris

L.L.The main protagonist is Cate Saunders. Still reeling from the death of her soldier husband, down on her luck and near penniless, she relocates to the tree-lined streets of Amberley MA. She works as a care assistant at a local hospital, which I can relate to as I used to be an R.N….and then I totally related to her drive to write. I absolutely loved reading about her struggles and triumphs with her craft. Any autobiographical inspiration there?

Ariella Cohen: A bit. Much like Cate, my life path took a turn I hadn’t seen coming when family members fell ill and I stepped into the role of caregiver. I think many women find themselves in this position, and although caregiving is a privilege, it’s also an incredible challenge. An unexpected one. I always smile when people announce what they’ll be doing in five years because we have no idea what Fate has in store. Sometimes, like a twig in a stream, we can’t control where we’re going. All we manage to do is keep our head above water. No small feat! That I finally found my writer’s ‘voice’ at such a difficult time is surprising, or perhaps not. Caregiving strips one to the core. Being vulnerable and open like that – free of ego and the rubbish that attaches to it – is the first step to writing authentically. Or so I told myself when, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, I set out to tell this story.

L.L.: I loved all of your characters, from Mary Lou (Lulu) the woman mechanic, to Gaby the slightly-psychic diner waitress, Sheila at the Italian grocer, Helen the nurse, and Miriam, whose story comes through in old journals. Was there a story within one of those characters you were more eager to write? One you felt a particular kinship?

Ariella Cohen: I love everyone in Amberley, but Miriam’s story and what it represents is the novel’s heart. The challenge was to portray her unique journey but not let it overpower the novel, as Holocaust narratives often do. So there was a bit of a tug-o-war in my mind as I weighed each character individually and in relation to the whole. No one has a monopoly on suffering and writers don’t want their characters to be competing on those terms.

italian-pastriesL.L.: My stomach rumbled as you wrote about the delicious treats Sheila whipped up in her Italian grocer. Oh, how I have a love affair with all things Italian! Can you share a favorite recipe inspired by the book?

Ariella Cohen: Oh, that would have to be Sheila’s almond crescents – sometimes called horns. Crescents are dead easy to make, provided you can secure almond paste – not marzipan. You can make almond paste but it’s nearly impossible to get it smooth enough so I buy my ingredients from a Brooklyn company that’s been in business since the 1920’s. And I don’t dip the finished cookies in chocolate; as my mother would say, ‘No need to gild the lily!’ Although many recipes call for flour, butter and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, the Italian version is a simple trinity. Combine 1 10-ounce can almond paste with ¾ cup white sugar and 1 egg. Roll each ball of dough between your hands and then shape into a crescent and dot with sliced almonds. Bake about 15-18 minutes (less if you don’t want them brown) at 375 degrees F on parchment paper. THAT’S IT! These cookies keep for days, if one has self control. I never do.

L.L.: And shifting gears a bit, but I have to ask: what was the Lodz Ghetto research like? It’s such a horrific time in our history and I can only imagine, completely Bundesarchiv_Bild_101III-Schilf-002-30,_Polen,_Ghetto_Litzmannstadt,_Bewohnerhaunting to research and write about. Can you share a bit about your process?

Ariella Cohen: You’re right; because it is so horrific, the Holocaust is off-putting. As Cate would say, the topic is too difficult to get one’s head around so we tend to avoid reading or thinking about it. So what’s a writer to do? In telling Miriam’s story, I decided to focus on the role Jewish women played during the early days of the occupation of Poland since that dovetailed with other themes in the novel. The bit of history woven in is meant to enhance our understanding of Miriam, not weigh down the narrative. For every line of historical background that made the manuscript cut, one hundred were rejected. It was a balancing act of tough calls, but readers will learn more about Miriam in book II.

L.L.: What’s inspiring you nowadays? What’s captured your interest?

Ariella Cohen: So much! I’m a member of the UK’s Richard III Society and have been researching Fifteenth Century merchant guilds for years. I’m working on a series of historical novels that will explore the fascinating world of Yorkist London, introducing readers to the real ‘kingmaker’ of the time: the merchant class. There’s still a lot of research ahead before I sit down to write.

L.L.: Are you working on other books? Can you tell us a bit about what’s next for you?

Ariella Cohen: I’m writing the sequel to SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY and doing the final edit on a Young Adult novel partially set during Ireland’s Great Famine.

L.L.: Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask, but should have?

Ariella Cohen: All I would add is that I hope the novel starts a conversation about how the wives, mothers, daughters and girlfriends of soldiers should share their stories – with friends, family, and the men in their lives. While crafting the novel, I often thought of my mother as her work during WWII so informed the writing. The only woman in her war plan qualified to test radio crystals, she left school and stepped up when the Siren song drew men to war. Like so many sisters-in-arms, she stepped back in line when the men came home. And she buried her story. We women do that SO much – whether we are drafted as caregivers or tasked with holding the home front together. Putting aside the amazing women who go to war, historically our role has been behind the lines – raising children, running factories, growing crops, nursing the wounded. And sacrificing in silence. The stories beneath that silence need to be shared. As my characters remind us, “Life is in the telling.”

For more information, or to follow on social media, find Ariella at: 

AriellaCohenAuthor bio: Ariella is a graduate of Barnard College, the Hebrew University and the University of Michigan Law School. She makes her home in New England, although her dream self resides in County Mayo, Ireland. SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY is Ariella’s debut novel and she is hard at work on the sequel.   @ariella_cohen

[Special thanks to L. Martinez at Kensington Publishers. Author and cover image courtesy of A. Cohen. Lodz Ghetto image retrieved from Wikipedia on 6.09.16. Italian pastries image retrieved from, stone church with flowers taken in County Mayo and is from Leslie Lindsay’s personal archives] 

Say that Again: Apraxia…You just Gotta Practice

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By Leslie Lindsay

(image source: Shutterstock.com)  Norwegian researchers have devised a new way of creating a child-like synthetic voice for ...

Over the summer, I was a  guest blogger on Haley’s blog, “Say What, Y’all?”  Not only do I love the title of her blog, being a former Missourian myself, but I can totally relate to having said this euphemism so many times in my “career” of being an “apraxia mom.”  Here it is again for those of you who may have missed it: 

You won’t soon forget her.  The red hair and blue eyes the size of saucers will linger in your memory.  So, too will the fact that she is as fire-y and energetic as that copper hair that cascades down her back, framing her freckled face with possibility. 

And when you hear her speak, you may have an inkling that she once suffered from moderate to severe childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), or you may be none the wiser. Although Kate is a bright, creative, and eager soon-to-be 2nd grader, she has overcome a road block most of us never have to deal with: a struggle to communicate expressively. 

I won’t bore you with the early days of suspicion and diagnosis and our first experiences with an SLP, but I will give you just a teensy bit of background:  Kate didn’t say much of anything—expect a friendly “hi”—for the first 2 ½ years of her life.  She was diagnosed with CAS at that time and began an extensive speech therapy regime 2-3 times a week for about 2+ years.  She is speaking  just fine now—with a few minor backslides here and there. 

When I was in the midst of writing, “Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech,” (Woodbine House, March 2012), I developed and facilitated a small parent education group called “Small Talk:  All About Apraxia” in the Chicagoland suburbs.  I wanted to connect with other parents also walking the apraxia path, hear their ideas and dilemmas, and facilitate their journey.  On one occasion, I brought Kate along.  Actually, she asked to join me!

“Mom, can I go to your [a]praxia group?”  She inquired one afternoon.

I shrugged and bit the inside of my cheek, “Well, I guess so.” I replied.  “But it might be a little boring for you…a bunch of mommies talking about apraxia…” 

“I don’t care.  I want to hear what you’re talking about,” she replied. 

And so she came.  But, beforehand, I asked her to think about what she might say to these parents.  She pondered that a moment and then rushed off to her room where she sat at her desk drafting out a speech.  She presented it to me just before we headed out that evening.  It read:

“I have upraxea [apraxia].  It is not seryous [serious].  All you have to do is practis [practice] your words more.  Don’t wory [worry].  Your kids will be ok.” 

Pride coursed through my veins.  I hugged my daughter and praised her for being able to communicate her thoughts on the disorder that has plagued her for most of her life.  It’s not every child who has that insight at her age. 

Once at our “Small Talk” meeting, I introduced Kate to the group.  The mommies smiled encouragingly as she read from her paper in stilted English, much like we might if we were visiting a foreign country and reading from a Berlitz book.  They beamed and applauded afterwards, some even dabbing their eyes. 

You see, it took a lot of courage for her to come to the group that evening and speak to a group of adults she didn’t know about something so intimate and close to her—to us as a family.  I couldn’t have been more proud. 

As usual, she was one to something.  Having apraxia really just means that one needs to practice speaking more than others.  While I don’t want to oversimplify things—it’s hard, long practice—but if we as parents can reframe the diagnosis of CAS to “a-word-practicing-disorder,” we may have a lot less stress and anxiety.

Today—literally—we were talking about some words that are troublesome for Kate.  She said, “I can’t really say shoulder.  It sounds like soldier.  And what’s a scone, anyway?  You mean cone, right?”   As a family, we laughed—we agreed—there are some words that are hard to say.  But if you practice them, you just might learn to say them. 

“ Apraxia.  You just gotta practice.”  –Kate L. 

Bio

Leslie Lindsay is a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic. It is because of her daughter that Leslie wrote the first book designed for parents on this complex neurologically-based motor speech disorder.  Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech(Woodbine House, 2012) is as much as labor of love as it is a resource to help others along their apraxia journey.  She lives in Chicagoland with her husband, two daughters, and a basset hound where she writes full-time. She is currently at work on a women’s fiction novel.  Follow her blog, www.leslie4kids.wordpress.com
“Practical Parenting with a Twist” in which she writes 5x/week on apraxia, education, parenting, and the writer’s life.

Apraxia Monday: Interview with The Apraxia Connection

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By Leslie Lindsay

THE apraxia CONNECTION
 
“Connecting Families, Educators & Professionals with Community Resources”

Today I am happy to share with you a new non-profit organization based out of Chicagoland, The Apraxia Connection.  This new venture has been spearheaded by Holly Olmsted-Hickey, Michele Kowalski, and Barbara Matt–all mothers who have been touched in some way by childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). 

Leslie4Kids: Let’s start with some introductions. I know there are three of you who are actively involved in The Apraxia Connection. Can you each provide a brief introduction as to who you are, your role in The Apraxia Connection, and a little about your family/kids, what you do “outside” of apraxia.

A.    We are three moms who came together with a common goal: to help other families with apraxia and associated disorders.  We all have one or more children with apraxia.  Holly is the President, Barbara is the Vice President and Michele is the Secretary.  Outside of our family, friends, work and The Apraxia Connection, we stay up to date on information that will not only help our own families, but many families in the Midwest.

L4K: What are the top three goals of The Apraxia Connection?

A.    Our ultimate goal is about giving back to families.  We plan to do this by connecting families, educators and professionals with valuable community resources and information about apraxia and related disorders.  We also hope to bridge the awareness and education gaps through our grassroots outreach in the Chicagoland, Illinois and the Midwest region. As we grow, we look forward to establishing grants to offer families, educators and therapists in financial need.  These grants would assist with purchasing the valuable, yet very expensive, therapies, tools and education opportunities needed to help these communities.

L4K: You all are already so involved in The Windy City Apraxia Network/listserv, can you tell us how The Apraxia Connection differs from that organization? ….Will the Windy City Apraxia Network continue as it has in the past, or will it be replaced by The Apraxia Connection?

A.  The Windy City/Chicagoland Apraxia Network (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/windycityapraxia/) is a private discussion and resource list for families with children or loved ones with apraxia and related disorders. This network has been building since 1999 and now serves more than 500 families in and around Chicagoland.  The Apraxia Connection (http://www.theapraxiaconnection.org/) is a public website and resource for families, educators, therapists, physicians and other professionals.  The website serves to create public awareness and connect families on a community and neighborhood level with valuable resources and information in Chicagoland, Illinois and the Midwest region. The website will also better connect these communities, help them learn more from one another and understand how to best help an individual with apraxia and related issues.  The Windy City/Chicagoland Apraxia Network plans to continue as a private discussion list and a safe place for parents to ask questions, learn and understand more from one another.

L4K: In your opinion, what are the biggest concerns of parents raising a child with CAS?

A.    A very big concern of ours is the feeling of isolation a diagnosis can give a parent.  Each of us went through that horrible feeling.  We hope to alleviate that for parents and families. The Apraxia Connection can provide a support system electronically via our lists, email and our website; in person through our monthly meetings, events and family gatherings; and even by phone and other resources including our upcoming free library and Connections Directory.  Parents can “talk the talk” with the understanding of families who have been there or going through the same thing at the same time.  It makes it much easier to be in familiar company and not feeling like you need to  reinvent the wheel by explaining your situation again and again.  Our families understand.

L4K: What is the best advice you can give a parent who is just beginning the apraxia journey?

A.    Some great advice we’ve received:

  • You are not alone! It may be a long road but you will always have someone there for you on the path that can point you in the right direction. 
  • You are your child’s best advocate!  You know your child the best.  Stay activelyinvolved in the medical, therapeutic and educational decisions made with your child’s team of specialists. 
  • Frequency & consistency!  These are two pieces to the apraxia puzzle that will serve you well in many areas including therapies, insurance paperwork and your own support. 
  • Fill your child’s head with speech & language! (frequently & consistently)
  • Read to them.  Sing to them. Talk to them. Play with them. Expose them to new sights and sounds and experiences. What is absorbed by their brains through their eyes, ears and touch WILL eventually be expressed with sounds and words out of their mouth!
  • Visit The Apraxia Connection! Let us help you connect with the resources you need.

 L4K: If you were to talk to a group of kids with apraxia, what would be your message?

A.    To the children with apraxia:  Believe in yourself.  Keep trying.  Keep practicing. Never give up on yourself.

To friends of children with apraxia: Believe in your friend.  Encourage your friend.  Play with your friend. Never give up on your friend.

To family of children with apraxia: Believe in your child.  Encourage your child.  Playwith your child.  Never give up on your child.

L4K: What are your favorite resources for parents raising a child with CAS ?

A.    Our favorite websites are these:               

If you prefer printed material/books, there are plenty of those as well.  Here are our favorites: 

  • A Mind at a Timeby Mel Levine, MD
  • The Explosive Childby Ross W. Greene, PhD

    stack of books

  • The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Stock Kranowitz
  • The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Stock Kranowitz
  • Seeing Clearly: Fun Activities for Improving Visual Skills by Lois Hickman, MS, OT, FAOTA and Rebecca Hutchins, OD, FCOVD

L4K: What is your “dream” for apraxia awareness, therapy/treatment, advocacy? Our biggest hope is more understanding and awareness of the complexity of apraxia and the disorders often associated with it. Apraxia of speech is not just your typical speech disorder nor does it often travel alone.  Dealing with apraxia takes a pro-active approach and not a “let’s wait and see” attitude.  It would be nice not to have to always explain and justify the differences.  We hope for more acceptance, more compassion and understanding of our exceptional children, teens and adults.

L4K:  What is your proudest apraxia moment–personally, or something that has happened within the group.

A.    Our proudest moment is right here and right now.  We are finding great joy in realizing our collective dreams to help families and individuals affected by apraxia and related disorders walk this unfamiliar path.  As a non-profit organization, we hope to help families, schools, clinics, physicians and professionals to connect and navigate this often misunderstood special needs maze together. 

A big thanks to Holly, Barbara, and Michele!  Thank you for taking the time to share with other apraxia families your goals and vision for The Apraxia Connection. 

Apraxia Update: One Week Till The Walk in Michigan

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By Leslie Lindsay

Just one week to go till I make an appearance at the SE Michigan walk for apraxia.  It’s going to be a fun time as we all support a complex, neurologically-based motor speech disorder (gosh, that’s a mouthful…ironically). 

Here’s some information that you may find handy as you make plans for the weekend, from the Apraxia-Kids website (who sponsors the walks nationwide):

http://www.apraxia-kids.org/faf/help/helpEventInfo.asp?ievent=1013204&lis=1&kntae1013204=9DFC408896BF4EFDBF20FBC3D5A67093

I’ll be there with my own family–a daughter who is also recovering from CAS–and maybe even a basset hound (who could use some speech therapy because all she seems to do is grunt and groan…it’s such a harsh life she leads).  Naaa…we’ll probably leave Miss Sally Mae at home under the care of our neighbors. 

Joking aside, this is a serious matter and I am honored to be asked to attend the walk.  Not only will I be there supporting a good cause, but a lovely family who was part of my Small Talk: All About Apraxia group spring 2011.  I’ll also have books available for purchase/signing ($20 cash, suggested retail is $24.95). 

Come on out!  Help spread the word on apraxia…

(Woodbine House, 2o12) 

In My Brain Today: The End of an Era

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By Leslie Lindsay

It is with mixed pride and sadness that I celebrate today.  You see, my darling precocious–and youngest daughter is completing her pre-K education.  It all culminates this afternoon with a popsicle social complete with friends and teachers who have played an important role in her life for the last 3 years.  (Jeez…that’s most of her life!)

Now, you would think that I would be so over it, but alas I am not.  I have been through the preschool “graduation” once with my 7-year old.  Been there, done that, right?  Well, I don’t think a mother ever tires of seeing her children grow and develop.  I know I will continue to observe such milestones, yet this is still hard.

Others have told me, “Oh, it’s just because she is your youngest that you are feeling this way.”  Well, yes and no…true, she is my youngest and in many ways, her moving out of preschool is an end of an era, but it really has very little to do with the fact that she is my youngest.  It has to do with her. 

You see, Kelly is a sweet, thoughtful, bright, and very mild-mannered child.  She is a joy to be around.  Sometimes, I wonder who is mothering whom?!  (Of course, she is never in a role that would sacrifice her childhood).  But I am going to miss her when she goes on to kindergarten.  I am going to miss the handprint art and the stick figure drawings with the too-big heads and the wobbly handwriting.    I am going to sort of-kind of miss the tiny little voice that says, “Why, momma?”  and I am going to miss her interrupting me as I work away on my laptop, “Momma, I just wanted to come and tell you I love you.”

Yet, on the otherhand, I will have more time.  Time to write.  Time to read.  Time to hang out with my hound.  Time to reclaim my goals, my activities.  My dreams.  Not that raising two beautiful daughters was not a part of my dreams, it was…but I know there is more to life than boogars and toilet bowl scrubbing.

And that’s what is in my brain today, Thurday May 24th 2012.