Category Archives: Book Reviews

Relaxing Reads: The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

 
“At forty-two, I had never done anything that took my own breath away, and I suppose now that was part of the problem–my chronic inability to astonish myself. I promise you, no one judges me more harshly than I do myself; I caused a brilliant wreckage. Some say I fell from grace; they’re being kind. I didn’t fall. I dove.”
                                                ― Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair
 
 
There is much to enjoy about Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Mermaid Chair, which followed the author’s debut book, The Secret Life of Bees.
 
When I picked up the book while perusing titles in my favorite used bookstore, I was immediately intrigued by the premise: “A vividly imagined love story between a woman and a monk, a woman and a husband and ultimately a woman and her own soul…”
 
Who wouldn’t want to read more? I soon became immersed in the story of Jessie Sullivan, a conventional wife who feels stifled in her marriage of 20 years; an unconventional artist who has lost her desire to create; an empty nester mourning the loss of her daughter to college.
 
Into this listlessness, Jessie learns that her estranged mother had inexplicably harmed herself. She leaves Charleston for Egret Island, a tiny barrier island off the South Carolina coastline where she grew up.
It’s there that she confronts painful memories of losing her dad in a boating accident and the traumatic aftermath of no longer having a “present” mother. On the island stands an abbey of a Benedictine monastery, and it is there that Jessie finds herself drawn to Brother Thomas, a sexy, complex monk who is months from taking his final vows. The monk’s real name is Whit, a former attorney who joined the monastery after his expectant wife died in a car accident.  

I found it hard to put down the story at times as the heroine grappled with the tension of desire and the struggle to deny it, and her eventual surrender to it.  Kidd writes the story with beautiful imagery, weaving together unforgettable characters and a compelling plot that keeps you turning the page.

In the end, we learn about the hard path to finding one’s true self, of letting go and of forgiveness.

About the Author

Sue Monk Kidd is a writer, novelist and memoirist. She was born in Albany, Georgia, and raised in the tiny town of Sylvester, Georgia.When her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees was published by Viking in 2002, it became a genuine literary phenomenon. The novel tells the story of fourteen year old Lily, who runs away with her black housekeeper in 1964 in South Carolina, and of the sanctuary they find in the home of three beekeeping sisters. The Secret Life of Bees has sold more than 6 million copies, spent over 2 ½ years on the New York Times bestseller list and been published in 35 countries.

Sue’s second novel, The Mermaid Chair, has sold nearly 2 million copies since its publication by Viking in the Spring of 2005. 

Firstlight, a collection of the author’s early writings, was released by Guideposts Books in 2006 and Penguin in 2007. A compilation of inspirational stories, spiritual essays, and meditations, it has been translated into several languages and has over 200,000 copies in print.

Sue’s newest book, Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story, co-authored with her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor debuted September 8, 2009, appearing on numerous bestseller lists, including the New York Times Bestseller List

Sue’s website features some timeless insights on her writing.  Her pearls of wisdom include:

  • The quality of a writer’s work directly correlates to how much the writer pays attention.
  • The single most important question a novelist should ask is: “What does my character want?” That thing will then become the driving force of the book.
  • “The well springs of the creative life are deep inside each of us” — therefore, we must “tap” into that river.
  • “It’s not the first thing I think of that works magic, but the third.” — find the third thing.
  • Allow yourself to write badly – “Perfectionism kills the spirit of writing faster than anything I know of.”

Masterful Storytelling – Open by Andre Agassi

Good biographies chronicle a person’s life, serving as honest portraits that take you through the lows and the highs of a life well lived. 

Great biographies transport you there — moment by moment — making you laugh, smile and at times tear up as you experience the triumphs and tribulations of the person’s life.

In the case of Open: An Autobiography, by Andre Agassi, you experience it all — from Andre’s early years under the tutelage of his tennis-obsessed father in Las Vegas, to his rebellious teen years spent at junior tournaments and doing time at The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, to his bumpy ride to tennis greatness, and finally, to his notable post-tennis career as a husband, father and education crusader.

You don’t have to be a tennis fan to appreciate Andre’s struggles with the physical and mental demons that dogged him as an athlete (the opening of the book is him waking up, disoriented and in unspeakable back pain, in a New York City hotel bed the morning of his last U.S. Open match in 2006.)

J.R. and Andre. Photo by:
New York Times

The book is a compelling read — filled with emotion and honesty, vivid personalities, lessons of forgiveness and acceptance and finding yourself.  It also is incredibly well written — the narrative is at times inspired, a credit to Andre’s collaborator J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Andre discovered and courted Moehringer for his book project after reading his memoir, The Tender Bar, about growing up fatherless in Manhasset, New York.

Andre winning the 1999 French Open.

One of the more dramatic parts in Open was Andre’s nail-biting final against Andrei Medvedev to capture the 1999 French Open. Andre recalls his lackluster playing early in the match and Brad Gilbert’s meltdown in the locker room during a rain delay. The experience jars Andre to get his game back, enabling a come-from-behind victory.  I love the minute-by-minute recreation of the match, where the changing weather and Andre’s mood are masterfully interwoven.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts of Open. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

He steps up, well inside the baseline, sending me a message that he anticipates a softie, and when he gets hold of it he’s going to ram it down my throat. He wears a look on his face that unmistakeably says: Go ahead, bitch. Be aggressive. I dare you. 

This moment is the crucial test for both of us. This is the turning point in the match, perhaps in both of our lives. It’s a test of wills, of heart, of manhood.

the pivotal moment in the third set of the 1999 French Open final against Medvedev

She smiles. Off she goes. I go tearing after her. It feels as if I’ve been chasing her all my life, and now I’m literally chasing her. At first it’s all I can do to keep pace, but near the finish line I close the gap. She reaches the red balloon two lengths ahead of me. She turns, and peals of her laughter carry back to me like streamers on the wind.
I’ve never been so happy to lose.

— racing Stefi on a San Diego beach early in their courtship

It’s early evening. The sun is just disappearing behind the masts and sails of the boats at the dock. Perry and I are early, Brad is right on time. I’d forgotten how distinctive looking he is. Dark, rugged, he’s certainly handsome, but not classically so. His features aren’t chiseled; they look molded. I can’t shake the idea that Brad looks like Early Man, that he has just jumped from a time machine, slightly out of breath from discovering fire. Maybe it’s all his hair that makes me think this. His head, arms, biceps, shoulders, face are covered with black hair. Brad has so much hair, I’m both horrified and jealous. His eyebrows alone are fascinating. I think: I could make a beautiful toupee out of just that left eyebrow.

— the first time Andre and Brad Gilbert meet and begin working together

Three Must-reads of the War-time Experience

In observance of this Memorial Day weekend, I share three books — two works of historical fiction and one non-fiction work– that memorably capture a soldier’s struggles and experiences in wars past and present.  

 

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

“Lee raised a hand. ‘General Pickett, I want you to re-form your division in the rear of this hill.’ 
Pickett’s eyes lighted as if a sudden pain had shot through him. He started to cry. Lee said again with absolute calm, ‘General, you must look to your division.’
Pickett said tearfully, voice of a bewildered angry boy, ‘General Lee, I have no division.'”
 

Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War classic takes you to July 1863 and the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history. It tells the story of soldiers on both side of the battle, and in so doing, leaves you with an indelible sense of who these men were and how they felt.

“He dreamed of Maine and ice black water; he awoke to a murderous sun.” This quote in the book’s second chapter on Joshua Chamberlain perfectly captures the homesickness felt by soldiers, and the stifling discomfort of that Pennyslvania summer.

In 2005, Jon Thompson, a retired English and Civil War history teacher from Ohio, argued that Shaara’s masterpiece was the best Civil War book ever written at a meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable. His reasoning? The book “describes Civil War combat as no other book ever has…vividly, graphically and accurately…Because it takes the reader into the minds and hearts of the soldiers…to know their thoughts…and feel their emotions…to know their ideas and ideals….their fears and frustrations…their dedication…their courage….their sense of duty.”

Ken Burns, acclaimed filmmaker of The Civil War, said this about the book, which was first published in 1974: “Remarkable…A book that changed my life…I had never visited Gettysburg, knew almost nothing about that battle before I read the book, but here it all came alive.”

In November 2000, Jeff Shaara, an historical fiction writer in his own right and the son of Michael Shaara, spoke about the legacy of his father’s book at the Lincoln Forum at Gettysburg. Mr. Shaara recalls that the book was originally rejected by 16 publishers — a result no doubt of the bad timing as the country was coming out of the Vietnam War era — before it was picked up by a small independent publisher, The David McKay Company, which was going out of business. When the book first won the Pulitzer Prize, people couldn’t get a copy and were calling Shaara’s house requesting a copy. Eventually, Random House acquired the small publisher.

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

 

 
I’m not afraid,” Rafi said.
“Why not?”
“If I die tomorrow it will have been useless to have been afraid today.”
  
This lengthy book of war, love and life, focuses on an elderly Italian professor and veteran of the Great War, who is moved to tell the story of his life to a young, illiterate Sicilian industrial worker, as they take a long walk from Rome to a village in the mountains. The boy learns about the elderly man’s experience as a soldier in the First World War, of how he lost one family, gained another, and lost it, too.
 
Author Mark Helprin formerly served in the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli infantry, and the Israeli Air Force. His essays and articles have appeared in The New Yorker for almost a quarter of a century. His Memorial Day tribute just published in the Wall Street Journal provides clarity in regard to how, where and when to go to war. 
 
 
 
Helprin shares his journey writing the book, including the loss of his father during its writing, in an interview with Connie Martinson Books.
 
 
 
Here are a few reviews of A Soldier of the Great War:
  • “Vast, ambitious, spiritually lusty, all-guzzling, all-encompassing.” (NY Times Book Review)
  •  “Helprin stands bravely apart . . . taking on all comers with a tone that recalls Hemingway.” (The Boston Globe)
  • “An incredible tale…a fascinating story, so rich with detail that you almost think it is a factual account. Helprin does such a wonderful job of crafting the soldier’s life story, you would think that he had firsthand experience as an Italian soldier in the same time period.” (Amazon.com reviewer)

WAR by Sebastian Junger

 

“He throws his last grenade and then sprints the remaining ground to where Brennan should be. The Gatigal spur is awash in moonlight, and in the silvery shadows of the holly forests he sees two enemy fighters dragging Josh Brennan down the hillside. He empties his M4 magazine at them and starts running toward his friend.”  — WAR by Sebastian Junger

Sebastian Junger, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of The Perfect Storm, spent months shadowing an American infantry platoon deployed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2008.

The result is War, which chronicles the 15-month deployment of a platoon in the Korangal Valley, which was considered the most hostile and dangerous valley in the country. The valley, the author explains, “is sort of the Afghanistan of Afghanistan: too ­remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, too autonomous to buy off.”

 

Junger, who cut his teeth as a freelance wartime reporter during the Bosnia conflict in the 90s, shares details of his journey at a May 2010 meeting of The Commonwealth Club of California, the nation’s oldest and largest public affairs forum.

 One military reviewer called WAR “the most definitive book I’ve ever read about soldiers in combat.”  Another said, “a well-crafted story that tells the story of what our troops in Afghanistan are enduring on a daily basis….A MUST-READ!!”

 
 

 

A Children’s Book Worth a Read

Ever read a book aloud to a child where you were immediately mesmerized by its lyrical quality? That doesn’t happen too often in my experience. But it does whenever I pull out  The Song of Celestine — James Redfield and Dee Lillegard’s children’s book inspired by their 1993 bestelling book, The Celestine Prophesy.

The story provides simple lessons in spirituality told in a colorful, lyrical way. The main character — a boy “who finds a path but loses his way” — experiences a spiritual awakening and learns the value of what’s really important, especially, to never forget to dream, share and rejoice in life’s gifts. 

This work reads like a poem with vivid imagery, but also has characteristics of an adventure story — with a struggle (inner one), discovery and a climactic conclusion. At its core, the story shows and doesn’t just tell, which are the building blocks for great writing.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

A restless boy named Celestine
felt unloved, unheard, unseen.
While wandering in the woods one day,
he found a path — but lost his way.

* * * * * *

Above the door, upon the rock —
above the door,which had no lock —
slowly appeared from first to last,
letters spelling to the past.

* * * * * *
Celestine witnessed war after war
and people struggling for more and more.
He saw that the past was important now.
But why? he wondered. Why and how?

* * * * * *

Celestine sensed a note of grace
as he gazed upon the warrior’s face.
Then love began to conquer fear,
and he watched the warrior disappear.
 
* * * * * *
Celestine woke and leaped from bed;
the messages raced through his tousled head.
Pay attention — now and to the past.
To flowers. To faces.” He was home at last.

Why Water for Elephants Works

“When two people are meant to be together, they will be together. It’s fate.” – Jacob Jankowski, Water For Elephants

Tonight I accompanied my friend and dad to see the critically acclaimed Water for Elephants.  The movie reflected my favorite genre, romantic drama set in an historical context.  The film transports you to Depression era America and the world of a struggling circus, where you get a bird’s eye view of the complex relationships between the people (and the animals) who inhabit that world.

The film, based on the New York Times’ bestselling book by Sara Gruen, who grew up in Ontario, delivered the goods — keeping me and other moviegoers transfixed. The movie had unforgettable flashes of both inhumanity and humanity, played out by Jacob (played by Rob Pattinson of Twilight fame), a young vet-in-training who flees unspeakable tragedy by hitching a ride on a traveling circus; Marlena, an orphan-turned star performer and circus wife (played by Reese Witherspoon); and of course, Christoph Waltz as the controlling, ruthless and jealous ringmaster August.

It doesn’t hurt that the story takes you inside the gritty world of a struggling circus during a time when one in four Americans was jobless.  I found myself asking, “Why does Marlena stay?” and “Why does Jacob?” at times when August’s violent outbursts are at their most out of control.

To me, Water for Elephants is storytelling at its best — with unforgettable (and flawed) characters. It’s a story about relationships and the bonds formed by people and animals, and includes a surprising climatic conclusion. Kudos to the filmmakers in crafting the final scenes of the movie using black-and-white old home movie flashbacks.  

Gruen writes in her book, “Life is the most spectacular show on earth.”   This movie certainly lives up to that billing.

Check out the movie trailer and a MovieJungle interview with Sara Gruen about her story and its transformation to the big screen.

Book Review: Are You a Modern-day Queen Esther?

Yesterday I attended my first BiblioBabes meeting – the monthly book club of members of Women in Technology. The focus of our discussion was Connie Glaser’s and Barbara Smalley’s book, What Queen Esther Knew—Business Strategies from a Biblical Sage.

Glaser, an Atlanta-based gender diversity expert, told me in advance of the meeting that she loved the story of Queen Esther as a child. “But hearing it again as an adult made me realize that the lessons of the book are as timely and resonant as they were 2,000 years ago. For someone who has been writing and researching issues on women and leadership for over two decades, this was an epiphany!”

“Queen Esther transformed herself from an orphan girl in exile to the most powerful woman in the Persian Empire. How did she do it? By being a brilliant strategist, a persuasive speaker, and a courageous risk-taker — yet all the time remaining true to her principles and ethics. The themes of the book – leadership, integrity, overcoming adversity – resonate as powerfully today as they did two millennia ago,” she says.

The 17 book club participants universally enjoyed the read, and discussed the book’s implications to their own journeys as women in business in smaller group breakouts.

Sandra Hofmann, WIT board member and president, noted the greatest truth of Queen Esther’s story is having the courage of your convictions. The story of Esther begins around 400 B.C.E., in the third reign of King Ahasuerus. The king became displeased with his queen and embarked on a four-year search for her replacement. The most beautiful maidens were brought to the palace for the king’s consideration and one of them was Esther, an orphan who was being raised by her older cousin Mordecai and who kept her Jewish origins secret. She eventually was selected as the new queen after proving her poise, worth and loyalty. Her mettle as a risk taker and strategist came later when a key figure in the kingdom maneuvered and used deception to get the king to agree to have all the Jewish people massacred. Esther – through a well thought out strategy – was able to deliver her people from death after revealing the true plot as well as her own Jewish heritage to the king at a special banquet she arranged.

The book, rich with examples of modern-day Esthers, illustrates how critical risk taking and leading are at critical moments that can define your character. The book also delved into the importance of understanding an organization’s culture, being privy to the grapevine and cultivating mentors.

“There were so many things that struck a chord in me,” says Carol Fowler, a district sales manager for an enterprise call center provider.

As a history buff, I would have enjoyed more details around the historical context of Esther’s life and struggles, but nevertheless found the book’s practical advice immediately applicable.

Margaret Anderson and Carol Fowler.

In discussing the importance of mentors, Margaret Anderson, a VP with SAP Labs, cited a recent Harvard Business Review article that points out that women need more sponsors than simply mentors (the difference is a sponsor goes beyond giving feedback and advice and uses his or her influence with senior executives to advocate for the mentee – something that men have a much better track record of doing for one another). The interviews and surveys cited in the article suggest that high-potential women are over-mentored and under-sponsored relative to their male peers—and that they are not advancing in their organizations.

Anderson agrees: “We as women have no lack of mentors; what we’re lacking are sponsors — people who can promote you.”

More modern-day Esthers will be explored at the December meeting of BiblioBabes, as we discuss WIT’s forthcoming book, CLIMB, Women Leaders n Technology Share Their Stories of Success, scheduled for release in mid October.

The Deadly Menace of MRSA

My blog is normally devoted to talking about communications trends, writing tips, etc. When I headed to Danya International yesterday, a government contractor that works with CDC on health communications and program evaluation activities, to hear about Maryn McKenna’s new book SUPERBUG: The Fatal Menace of MRSA, about the growing epidemic of drug-resistant staph, I fully expected to leave with insights into this frightening epidemic, and into the writing path that got McKenna to this book.  
 
Afterall, she was an award-winning health reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who got her nickname “Scary Disease Girl” during her tenure covering CDC and the government’s investigations of major disease outbreaks.
I was completely blown away by what I learned about MRSA and the lack of a coordinated response to this spreading crisis by the medical community here in theU.S. I suppose it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise, given that it’s an industry that polices itself.  
 
First, some facts:
 
  • One-third of theU.S. population walks around all the time with MRSA on their skin and in their noses.  It’s a very common bacterial found on large numbers of people.
  •  In theU.S. in a single year, there are 19,000 deaths and 370,000 hospitalizations from MRSA. Overall healthcare spending on combating it is conservatively estimated at $4.8 billion a year.
  •  In 1968, it arrived in theU.S. strictly as a “hospital infection” targeting mostly the elderly.
  •  In 1980, it struck a hospital in WashingtonState, when a car accident victim in Texas was transported to Seattle and passed the skin infection on in the burn unit and later the ICU.
  • Community-based strains of MRSA are affecting kids – specifically, student athletes as the news headlines continue to report. The kids are not showering and are not cleaning their sports equipment. They are getting it from skin-to-skin contact.

One Mother’s Nightmare

But MRSA also has infected healthy women after they give birth in hospitals. Women like Diane Lore, a 20-year journalist and former medical editor of the AJC, who is featured in McKenna’s book. She contracted a community-based strain of MRSA in June 2003 after giving birth to her third child, when her baby daughter first clamped down so hard that she tore her mo ther’s right nipple. 
 
Family video footage inside the hospital room before the breastfeeding occurred showed a gloved nurse inserting a finger into the child’s mouth to calm the crying baby. Lore, who lost six months of bonding time with her infant daughter combating the infection, eventually overcame it after enduring incorrect diagnoses, and multiple courses of antibiotics until she finally received the right treatment.  Not surprisingly, she and her husband also faced a formidable battle with their  insurance company on covering the expensive treatment. Lore held up a bottle of some of the leftover course of antibiotics, which she held onto even after her bout with MRSA passed out of fear of a return of the infection. The cost of one little white pill was a staggering $100.
 
“It was a horrible, traumatic time,” Lore said, “I don’t’ remember my little girl at all. I was quarantined up in my son’s bedroom (out of fear that she was infectious.)” At one point, she and her husband drew up their will and had their “last talks.”
 
“MRSA was a hospital infection but it’s not – it was just MRSA’s first epidemic,” notes McKenna, explaining that contingents within the medical establishment were very reluctant to acknowledge that community-based strains could actually hit inside a hospital.
 
The third wave of the epidemic is now cropping up in ano ther area — agriculture – infecting both farmers and their animals, notably pigs, which means it will find its way into the food chain. The culprit? Widespread use of antibiotics and the overcrowded living conditions of the animals on industrialized farms.
 

What We Can Do 

So, what can be done about preventing MRSA’s spread?
 
Hygiene is king — McKenna urges everyone to wash their hands frequently.  If you are going to the hospital or have a loved one going in, get screened for MRSA first. People entering ERs should be screened before being admitted into the general hospital population.  This practice of isolation and detection is widely used in parts of Europe and a CDC trial of a Veteran’s Hospital in Pittsburgh was so effective that it’s now in full force in all hospitals in the VA system, McKenna says.
 
And, hospital staff needs to be educated on hygiene practices, including frequent hand washings and glove changes. “Non-stop messaging” and the threat of lost executive bonuses helped one Charlotte, N.C., hospital get hand-washing hygiene up to 98 percent from 50 percent.     
 
McKenna holds out hope that the move toward electronic healthcare records, which would enable “people’s records to be portable with them,” could help doctors more quickly diagnose MRSA in patients.  Also, new rapid test equipment, currently very expensive, can detect MRSA within 24 hours. She also urges people to not be afraid to ask questions of doctors and nurses. Lore urges that if you have a loved one sick in the hospital, be a watchdog and advocate by their bedside.
 

Word of Mouth 

Mike Greenwell, Danya’s vice president of Health Marketing and Communications, notes that Danya will be assisting CDC with a public service campaign on MRSA in the coming months, and he sought input on whether the campaign should target healthcare workers or consumers. The consensus was the general public.On the communications front, word of mouth through social media and leveraging mommy bloggers are important outreach methods, which are going to be relied on more given the cutbacks in investigative, in-depth health reporting in newspaper rooms around the country. 
 
So, stay tuned, you will be hearing more about  MRSA’ s menace and what we as a society need to do to combat its spread. And keep your hands clean.
 

Listen to Mckenna’s March 23 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air program.

Ways to Nurture Your Writing Spirit

 
With the holidays fast approaching, it’s an ideal time to carve out some “you time” – to recharge and renew your creative spark – especially for those of us who earn our living through the written word. Here are a few ways to renew your writing spirit, even in the midst of all the holiday hoopla:
 

 Read for joy.  There’s nothing more relaxing on a cold winter’s night than to curl up in a favorite reading chair, sip on some hot chocolate and open a favorite book. Pick something fun, fanciful or fast-paced that can transport you somewhere else – it’s a trip well worth taking. My only caution is to avoid continuing to read to the point of sleep deprivation – the better the book, the more likely you will avoid sleep to enjoy the next chapter. Below are some great “reads” from my bookshelf:

    • The Killer Angels — by Michael Shaara
    • The Joy Luck Club – by Amy Tan
    • The Hot Zone – by  Richard Preston
    • Seabiscuit – by Laura Hillenbrand
    • The Five People You Meet in Heaven – by Mitch Albom
    •  A Farewell to Arms – by Ernest Hemingway
    • The Four Witnesses – by Robin Griffith-Jones
    • Anything by Jane Austen
 

“Hear” a really good movie. Ever watched a movie and fell in love withthe dialogue and writing?  You know you’ve experienced an exceptionally written film whenthe words are still with you long afterthe ending credits.  A perfect example is my all-time favorite movie,the 1942 WWII classic, “Casablanca.” These classic lines penned bythe Epstein brothers between Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick, and London actor Claude Rains’ Captain Renault still make me smile:

Captain Renault: In 1935, you ran guns to Ethiopia. In 1936, you fought in Spain, on the Loyalist side. 

 

Rick: I got well paid for it on both occasions. 

 

Captain Renault: The *winning* side would have paid you *much better*. 

 

 
Captain Renault: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this café, but we know that *you’ve* never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open. 
Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.
Captain Renault: That is *ano ther* reason. 
Captain Renault: What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca? 
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed. 
 

Write a poem or letter to a loved one.   Wanting to reconnect to a loved one? There is no better way than through a heartfelt sentiment captured through prose. Take a moment to write a poem inspired from  the sights and smells of the season…or write a homecoming letter. Letters have particular significance to soldiers serving far from home during this time of year.  You only have to read some of the sentiments of soldiers in “Letters from the Front” at http://www.letters-from-the-front.com/ to find that universal truth. Their letters of loss, suffering, homesickness and thankfulness ring true, from the Revolutionary War to modern-day conflicts in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Storytell with a child. There’s nothing more magical than capturingthe joy of storytelling withthe young. It’sthe ultimate recharger of my spirit to take my own preschool-aged kids on a magic journey throughtheir imaginations.  This type of creative exercise nurturestheir creativity and inspires a love for storytelling (both from others andtheir own). It can start with a favorite story or even everyday activities.  The key is to take turns tellingthe story – adding rich details leading to a climactic moment and hopefully (with your influence) a subtle life lesson. Here’s one storytelling jump starter to try:

During bath time, imagine that the tub is transporting your youngster to a magical place…Where are they headed? What adventures do they embark upon? My son’s favorite tub-driven destinations: the Atlanta Braves stadium to hit the game-winning homerun and to Yoda’s home planet for an out-of-this-world sleepover with Yoda and his crinkly faced twin bro ther and sister.  When it comes to the imaginations of children, the galaxy is truly the limit!