The Best Advice My Mother Gave Me

I always enjoy the week between Christmas and the new year. I love the way it helps us let go slowly and say a proper good-bye.

My mother was a 7th grade English teacher. If you remember 7th grade English, it was saturated with grammatical work. Proper use of commas, dangling participles and conjugating verbs. She was the one we all called when we were stuck with a sentence while writing a college essay. “Mom – tell me again the difference between ‘lay’ and ‘lie’. Was it people lie and objects lay – or the other way around?” She always knew. And if not, she’d go straight to her textbook bibles to double-check. (But she always knew.)

The best advice she gave me, when I struggled through a particular phrase, was to simply change the sentence around.

When you can’t figure out if it’s ‘me and him went to the market’ or ‘he and I went to the market’ – stop trying so hard to figure out the correct grammatical rule and just rearrange the sentence! ‘I went to the market with Scott.’ It’s as simple as that. I’ve used that advice over and over when writing something out and getting stuck mid-way. Take a second. Back up. And rearrange the sentence. There’s always a different way out of the glitch you’ve worked yourself into.

It occured to me this morning that Mom gave me a much deeper piece of advice. The frustration surrounding this unmoored Week-In-Between which is filled with the pressure to make new year’s resolutions, is that too often we can become bogged down in the mire of Making It Important Enough. Looking back over the past year – or in this case, the past decade – we can tend to feel the weight of all the should’ves we shoulda done. This week is not unlike any of the other 51 weeks, but we all fall into the collective trap of Doing Better and Wish I Had… type feelings.

I’m going to take my mother’s advice and try seeing the simple solution: just rearrange the sentence. Can’t figure out how to cultivate a more grateful heart? Stop looking at all the gratitude journals and blessings systems, and simply say to yourself, ‘I am grateful for the sun’s rays this morning.’ Maybe that’s the last moment of recognized gratitude I’ll have all week. I hope not. But I don’t need to be weighed down with all the logistics. I just need to feel and recognize the gratitude and move on. Same with healthy choices and marital relationships and friendships and financial goals. Don’t get pushed under the current of what’s right, what’s acceptable, and what’s expected. Rearrange the sentence…the trajectory…of your life and then you’ll be able to move forward. One sentence after another until the paragraph, the story, the year, the decade begins to take shape.

We all have 24 hours, 52 weeks, and untold years in which to live out our uniquely chosen life. My mind often reels with questions about what is the right way to go about this task? What is the correct thing to do in this situation? Should I have… Could I have… And yet an unfinished sentence is a task not yet completed. An unfinished sentence serves no purpose. No solution.

Sometimes the most grammatically correct thing one can do is the simplest thing.
Simply change the sentence.

 
Here’s to a new year. A new decade! Sure, we have goals in mind and that’s great because that’s what keeps us moving forward and growing stronger. This is just a friendly reminder from a 7th grade English teacher: Don’t drown under the logistics of it all. Go to the gym – even if it’s not the right gym. Have the difficult conversation even though it might entail ugly crying. Reach out, even when you think you’ve done nothing wrong. Save the extra dollar instead of increasing your spending. Don’t get bogged down in the HOW. Live out the WHY.

I’m ready for you 2020. Let’s finish up this sentence so we can go kiss that cute boy waiting for me at my locker (which was always more fun than modifying a clause!) Still is!

My 2020 Unread Book Project

It seems every year I go through the same mental tennis match: ‘Do you REALLY want to set resolutions and goals for January 1? They’re always fraught with so much pressure.’ There is something about a goal set on a random Tuesday that holds more promise of completion for me.

That said, I have decided to participate in a bookstagram challenge for 2020. It’s simply to read more of the books you already have on hand.

While the premise of this challenge originally seemed like a very good idea, I began to see it as something a little more meaningful. As with each new year, I want to make strides in personal growth, namely by reducing the amount of things that activate my tendencies toward addictive behavior. As with many bookish people, it is hard to resist the newest, latest, greatest, trendiest new book on the market. I’m as bad as the next person about falling into that trap, thereby ignoring all of the wonderful books that are sitting right next to my reading chair, waiting to be picked up.

Of course this applies to many areas of my life. I thoroughly enjoy Instagram. The other bookish and plant-loving people I have connected with over there has meant a great deal to me. Some of them becoming authentic online friends. But Facebook? Not so much anymore. I often find myself frustrated and spending an endless amount of time scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through stuff I’m not even really paying attention to. And so for 2020, I am going to attempt to give up Facebook – an unnecessary amount of time that pulls at my addictive behavior.

Lord help me, I am certainly not saying social media is bad. I love it for its many little pleasures and inspiration. But my relationship with Facebook has changed drastically over the years and I think it’s time that we attempt to go our separate ways. The now trendy phrase, Does this bring me joy?, is something I’m asking myself about many of my habits as I head into a new year. A new decade!

This project is being spearheaded by Whitney of The Unread Shelf. She has challenged us to take a good look at our unread books on our own bookshelves and select specific ones that we would like to read in the upcoming year. These won’t necessarily be the only books we read in 2020, but they are books on which we’ve put a higher priority.

I felt a connection with this unread project and asked myself why does this excite me? Why does this make sense to me? I think it’s because using what I already have and what I already own seems to be stepping away from the addiction of needing to have the very latest thing people are talking about. I have a wealth of depth sitting untapped in my very own space. So I think the challenge to read my own unread books will serve a dual purpose. If not more.

What I am not committing to, however, is not buying any books in 2020. (I’m not a masochist. -ha!) But I am going to set some personal goals of reading a certain number of unread books before I can even think about buying a new book (or even reserving books at the library – a.k.a.: new-to-me books.)

In many areas of my life, I am looking forward to discovering what I already have.

I selected each of these books for a particular reason:

Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media by Susan J. Douglas
Truth: (gulp) I was one of those obnoxious people who, while in grad school…back in the room where the textbooks are…picked up this book and added it to my class textbooks even though it wasn’t on the list or even from a class I was taking. (aaaack!) I know, I know. Every professor hates it when students do this. They’ve ordered the correct amount of books needed for their class and suddenly they don’t have enough books to go around. It was me! I’m willing to come out about it now. (But can you blame me?!) Doesn’t the tagline sound fascinating?? How has the trajectory of women’s lives been affected by what we see in movies, tv or (and especially) in commercials? This book has been on my bookshelf for FAR too long.

…And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
Oh my word…I am completely intimidated by this book. I need to overcome my fear of its size.

One of my best and dearest friends, Jenny, threw her very book-loving daughter, Katie, a book party when she turned 16 years old. It was the greatest idea. Each attendee (adults and kids) brought a book that has been significant to them as a gift for Katie. Can you even imagine?! At the end of the party she had a huge pile of books. (Can I get a party like that at my age??)

Anyway, this was one of the books. Here’s a section from the Amazon description of it: about a group of women in the fictional town of Waynesboro, Ohio who begin a woman’s literary club, which evolves through the years into a significant community service organization in the town. The novel, which looks at the club as it changes throughout the years, spans decades in the lives of the women involved in the club, between 1868 and 1932.

I mean. It sounds fantastic, right? I need to conquer it. Maybe I’ll break it up over the course of the year. Hmmm…

Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
I very much enjoy early American history. I am a bit jealous of well-known author, Goodwin, for her concentrated expertise on Abraham Lincoln. Wouldn’t it be incredible to be an expert about one particular subject?

One of the monthly challenges that Whitney has laid out for us is to read an unread book we own that was gifted to us by someone. This book fits that bill. My father went to see Goodwin last year and sent me a signed copy of this book. So this year it goes into my must-reads for the year.

Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts
Again, early American history and also – it’s Cokie Roberts.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
This book represents a specific challenge for me. When I was a teenage reader, I loved to read scary books. Amityville Horror and Flowers in the Attic for example. But then adulthood and parenthood TOTALLY changed that and I became a bigtime chicken! -ha. And yet, every time I pick up a ‘scary’ (to me) book like The Girl in the Train – I absolutely love it! I flip the pages faster and faster and love the raised heartbeat of a (somewhat) scary novel. I need to force myself to read them more often. So this Book of the Month novel I’ve had for almost a year needs to be tackled in 2020! You can do scary things, Greta!!

Mariana by Monica Dickens
I have a number of Persephone Classics books on my shelves and yes, mostly, because they have absolutely beautiful covers! Maybe I ought to give them a try as an actual book???

From the Amazon blurb: Monica Dickens, the great granddaughter of Charles Dickens, published Mariana in 1940 when she was only twenty-four years old. A bestseller in its time, Mariana is the often-comical story of a typical English girl growing up in the 1930s.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
Again, this has been on my shelves since grad school (but yes, this was an actual required book for one of my classes.) As with many required reading books, you quickly blow through them, looking for whatever you need to accomplish for the class assignment. I’d like to go back and actually read this classic.

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England by Carol F. Karlsen
It’s a weird subject but one I’ve found interesting in the past. The basis of the book is that the practice of ‘calling out witches’ during the Salem Witch Trials (and so many more!) in many ways defined how it is we see women in society. Subjugated and easily manipulated. How much of a deficit did this cause in the fight for women’s rights?

The last block of books are some of the best books written about Writing and Creativity. I look at them and wonder how much I could learn from these great masters of storytelling and prose:

Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
On Writing by Stephen King

I’m not going to lie, it seems like a daunting task. But it’s daunting because these books are so important to me. I will count this reading year successful if I can incorporate these Unreads into the other books that come my way in 2020. As always, the biggest goal: to read more, expand my mind, increase my vocabulary and always, always have a little more fun in the towns and situations I’ll find myself in through the pages of a well-crafted book.

THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 

I was in a bad temper and talking ill of folk and she turns around to me and says ‘Thou doesn’t like this one and thou doesn’t like that one. How does thou like thyself?’

Next year, I am determined to read more classics. When I find myself thinking, ‘Have I read this already? I can’t remember.’ Those are the books I want to intermix with my other readings next year. Since I currently have a few classics on my bookshelves and am also participating in @theunreadshelf’s 2020 challenge to read the books we already own, I should be able to tackle some of the classics I have on hand. I’m excited for the people and places I’ll meet along the way!

[sidenote: There are many English and Scottish phrasings in this book. If that makes it more difficult to read, I highly suggest getting an audio recording of this book. It was the perfect way to listen to this classic.]

My initial (modern day) reaction to this book (written in 1911) was that there was some very sketchy parenting going on! Children being forgotten or left to fend for themselves. (If I were a child reading this, however, I’m sure I would think that was super cool!!)

Mary Lennox is a sickly, unwanted 10-year-old that is left orphaned after both her wealthy parents died from cholera. Even before their death, however, her parents didn’t want to interact with her so they left her to be raised by servants who did whatever she asked – leaving her a very spoiled and unlovable child.

Mary is sent to live with her wealthy uncle who is, himself, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. Archibald Craven travels frequently, leaving Mary on her own once again. Living in Yorkshire, England now, Mary wanders the property – initially hating the moor near which her uncle’s grand home was built. In the process of looking at the gardens (and hearing of a secret garden that no one knows how to get into!), she befriends a robin who daringly follows her on her walks and quickly becomes her first friend ever.

Mary’s world begins to drastically change as spring begins to show in the gardens – and especially after the robin leads her to the buried key that unlocks the secret garden.

One of the characters in this book is a weak and ill-tempered hypochondriac little boy named Colin who has overheard adults saying all his life that he was going to die soon. He lies in bed, afraid to walk, afraid to be seen by others, afraid to go outside his room – until he meets Mary and her secret garden. Just as being out in nature made a dramatic difference to Mary, Colin also begins to trust in others and believe in his own future of health.

Amazingly descriptive detail was given to the garden and surrounding English countryside. The temper tantrums and kids-as-bosses added lots of flair in creating the images of the central children of the story. Once these initially spoiled children began thinking about others and how to bring their secret garden back to life, their minds were filled with things other than their own fears and selfish desires. What a beautiful book for a child to read.

Truly, what an important book for an adult to revisit. Are you living your fullest life? Are you being brave when others around you are doubting your strength? Even more difficult, are you being brave when you doubt your own endurance? What treasures are out there, waiting for us to discover if we’d only step outside our self-built boxes and walk into the fresh air of new possibilities.

Give this book a try, friends. You might be searching for A Secret Garden in this stage of your life. A garden you didn’t even know you needed.

A FINE ROMANCE by Candice Bergen

This has been one of my favorite memoirs to read.

The original Murphy Brown TV show came out when I was in the throws of motherhood. I loved watching her show (from a VCR!) The writing was funny and her character helped me feel more secure in my own evolution as a woman. All things seemed possible.

My mistake, however, was subconsciously assuming the character Murphy Brown was, in fact, Candice Bergen. Bergen historically plays strong, independent, female roles. I have also loved her roles in the tv show, Boston Legal, Sweet Home Alabama, Sex and the City, Book Club, etc. All unflappable characters.

Reading her memoir, A Fine Romance, changed many of my misconceptions of her and broadened my respect for Candice Bergen as Candice Bergen.

Candice walks her readers through her early career, her marriage to French director, Louis Malle and their daughter, Chloe. We caught a glimpse of Candice Bergen as a mother and wife which was a complete thrill. She is warm and gracious and her love for their daughter was – to be honest – somewhat convicting. She was a truly incredible and nurturing mother.

Bergen spends time on the Murphy Brown years – which I particularly enjoyed. She spoke of her relationship with the other cast members – and humor, always humor. She talks of her current husband, Marshall Rose. I related to the struggle she went through after her divorce and before remarrying again many years later and her adjustment to another person being in her life. She was honest and transparent about her two marriages.

The biggest thing I enjoyed was her openness about aging. It is tough, this getting older business. I laughed often and appreciatively.

Thank God for my friends. Mothers in their 50’s – running to beefy now, the traditional thickening through the middle. We clumpt together in our middle-age camouflage – black pants, long sleeves, more make-up than in years past – compensating with wit, attention, intelligence, experience. Bringing to bear, not the extra 15, 20 pounds we all seemed to be packing, but our confidence in who we were. The sizeable weight and force of our personalities.

I was initially interested to read this memoir about a woman who shaped many of my generation’s views on feminism. I was pleasantly surprised to find a woman who is all I expected – independent and strong – but also so many other layers of depth were revealed. She is a wonderfully loving woman who seems to have the gift of giving small tokens of love to those she holds dear. She was always, always, always gracious to the subjects about which she wrote.

Unflappable, yes. But moreso – cultured, loyal, well-traveled and fluent in French. An affectionate mother and friend. She seems to possess that powerful concoction of femininity + strength. An ever-evolving and relevant woman even now.

Rethinking Small Bedrooms

If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed I’ve been moving around my ‘library’ and reading corner recently. I’ve tried it in a couple of different areas (always built around natural light options), but I had a little bit of an aha moment (aka: DUH! moment) and wanted to share it with you – definitely still a work in progress.

We live in a smallish house in northern California. We love our little spot of the world, but there are challenges with space sometimes. If you have a large home, this post won’t click for you much, I would suppose. But if you are a small-home-dweller, maybe something like this will help you too.

Enter our three bedrooms. They are smalllll bedrooms. What would be considered the Master Bedroom is only a few feet larger than the others so I came to a conclusion: Since the rooms weren’t vastly different, why was I giving the largest of them all the ‘time of day’, if you will, but only sleeping in it at night?? Who says this has to be the main bedroom for sleeping?!

So we pulled everything out of the ‘Master Bedroom’ and swapped it with a smaller room across the hall where ‘The Office’ once was.

I’m pretty minimalistic anyway with bedroom furniture and decor.

We didn’t finish painting before completing the move, but it’s just going to have to wait until we get back from vacation next week. Besides, you can see how the bedroom is evolving from a nice gray (which was too dark for this room) to a bright white that plays nicely off the very sunny window.

Scott built us these floating shelves a few months ago and I can’t recommend them enough! Easy cleaning and forced simplicity. Win win!

These mirrored closet doors are soooo seventies. Initially I wanted to take them out and do something different with the space, but I do really like the way they double the natural light in the room. I think they’re staying put for now. I lay in bed in the mornings and watch the palm trees swaying and the birds coming and going – all through the view of the mirror. I’m kind of digging it.

Some black and white decor via 1967. You’ve gotta love the arts and crafts that stand the test of time! 🙂

We’ve got our air-purifying snake plant next to the bed for all the extra good juju breathing we can get.

I don’t know what i’ll do with the shelf in the room yet (something clean and simple though) but for now, this calathea is enjoying her spot in the bright but indirect sun.

And now what was originally the master bedroom is the library/reading and writing room.

A quick word about this majesty palm… I had it in the wrong place last summer and it got dried out. I was ready to get rid of it but decided to make some drastic cuts to it. There was one new palm growing in so I cut off ALL the older palms. In the past few months two more new palms have grown in. I put a humidifier on it a few times a week and make sure it doesn’t get dried out (but not too wet either.) It seems to like it’s new lease on life. My PSA is to try drastic measures if you’re going to be throwing a plant away anyway. Similar to ctrl-alt-del, sometimes cutting a plant down to nothing and letting it start over again is a viable solution. We all kind of desire that fresh start, don’t we??

This big window is where all the cool plants wanna hang out. It doesn’t get the harsh sun from our backyard but is bright and cheery with big views of the sky. It’s also a wonderful place to sit and write to you from my laptop…

So what happened to my cozy reading corner? Scott and I are jokingly referring to it as our ‘Mud Room’. I set up a desk in there that holds essentials. It’s where we throw our canvas bags after using them before they go back to the car. Our car keys, sunglasses, you get the idea. The door to the right goes out to the laundry room and then the garage and with all the winter rains we are getting, it’s the perfect place to take off shoes, etc. I’m looking for just the right durable rug to go here as well.

Lots of room switching around (per usual for me) but we’re both happy with the results. Now for the Big Painting Project of 2020 where all the house will change from gray to WHITE! I love the blank canvas that white affords.

Are you working on any last minute home improvement projects before the decade begins? I can’t guarantee it, but I would bet my first project of the decade was painting something white. -ha! I guess I don’t deviate from a good thing, do I?

THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

Books celebrating books. Authors paying homage to readers. This enticing concoction of book-celebrating is an intoxicating elixir when it occurs in a storyline and The Giver of Stars is no exception.

This book is based on a true story in American history.

Historical reference: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Works Progress Administration created librarians – primarily made up of women – to ride horses into rural areas and high in the mountains, bringing books to those who otherwise would have no access to books at all. The purpose of this New Deal program was to expand the minds of those that knew very little of a world outside their own immediate family.

Pack-Horse-Eleanor

These women were often referred to as ‘book ladies’ or ‘packsaddle librarians’. Riding through snow, rain, and very difficult terrain, these traveling librarians dropped off books (and picked up returning books) to the outskirts of society. It is estimated that 63% of the state of Kentucky were without access to public libraries and around 30% of rural Kentuckians were illiterate. Roosevelt understood that education was the foundation of change and a path out of poverty and that the education gained from borrowing donated books could have a lasting effect.

Pack-Horse-1

This program also created jobs for women during the Great Depression. ‘Book ladies’ made around $28 a month (the equivalent of about $500 a month today), delivering books to homes and schoolhouses between 1935 and 1943. In 1943 the service lost its funding leaving many Appalachian communities without books for decades until bookmobiles were introduced in the late 1950’s.

The Giver of Stars is a harrowing story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond, to bring books to those who had no access.

Alice Wright, born and raised in England, marries wealthy businessman, Bennett Van Cleave, an American from Kentucky. After settling into their new home in rural Appalachia, Alice soon discovers small-town living in Baileyville, Kentucky can feel very claustrophobic. When she learns of the packhorse book project, she eagerly signs up. ‘She covered her own anxiety with activity.’ The five heroic women who eventually form the book distribution team, soon learn to rely on each other as a means of support against familial and community outrage. Many townsmen (led by Alice’s wealthy father-in-law) were indignant that a woman would be capable of such a daunting task.

In any other town, such misdemeanors might eventually be forgotten, but in Baileyville a grudge could last a century and still nurture a head of steam. The people of Baileyville were descended from Celts, from Scots and Irish families, who could hold on to resentment until it was dried out like beef jerky, and bearing no resemblance to its original self.

Alice begins to gain confidence and independence through the difficult work of the packhorse library, traveling hours by herself in the beauty of Kentucky mountains and wide open skies, meeting the warm-hearted people of the rural country, while learning to trust and lean on her fellow librarians.

She had built a new Alice over the frame of one with whom she had never felt entirely comfortable.

I highly recommend this beautifully written book. At times it seems certain they cannot recover from many of their adventures and Moyes leaves you hanging until the last minute. Loss and love and renewal and commitment weave themselves through each adventure. Getting to know each of these remarkable women was a literary privilege for me as well as delving deeper into the historical facts surrounding this amazing chapter in American history.

WILL MY CAT EAT MY EYEBALLS by Caitlin Doughty

I can NOT stop reading this book, you guys!! Like driving by a car wreck, I keep flipping to the next page after page. It’s so interesting! (Although I’m a big chicken so I can’t read it before bed.)

WOULD a cat eat you if you died and weren’t found for a long time and the cat was hungry? The answer’s yes – but she would start with something soft like your lips or eyelids. (Blech!) Thing is, it’s your DOG that would really go after you. There are homicide officers that after arriving at the death scene, originally thought it was a brutal murder when it turns out – it was man’s best friend!

😳

What happens to a body if it dies in space?

What would happen if you swallowed a bag of popcorn before you died and were cremated? Do bodies in the cemetery make our drinking water taste bad?

Best-selling author and real-live funeral director, Caitlin Doughty, receives many questions about death. The best (and most curious) are from children. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs answers many of the questions we’ve privately wondered about (and many we’ve never even thought of yet!) With wit and humor (and a great deal of inside information), Doughty lays out chapter after chapter of scientifically-based and humor-filled answers.

I grabbed this on impulse at my library and haven’t been able to put it down since. I’m telling you – it sounds crazy, but you’ll be hooked too!

Putting extra food in Haddie’s bowl tonight……

PRAIRIE FIRES by Caroline Fraser

I finished reading a book that left me a little distraught. It was the winner of a Pulitzer Prize, The National Book Critics Circle Award and named one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year. But even more than that, it is a subject that absorbed so much of my childhood, leaving me with very happy memories. It was a major contributor to my lifelong love of reading.

I was excited to read the biography Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. I absolutely loved my copies of each of the Laura Ingalls children’s books, in particular ‘Little House on Plum Creek’ which seemed to capture every inch of my imagination with the devastating prairie fires and the onslaught locust clouds. Living in a home underground set my thoughts on fire as a child, wondering what it must be like to live that way.

What I never considered was the real-life devastation that locusts and prairie fires would have on a farming family…

I honestly don’t know if I can recommend this biography to a fan of the Little House books or tv series. It was difficult to read the true events that happened behind these childlike books of fiction. Prairie Fire covers the entirety of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, so it is exhaustive in its details taken from her diaries as well as city and state records. It is bookended by the real Charles Ingalls at the beginning of the book and Michael Landon in the end. (In fact, Landon’s….end…is discussed. His backside was so popular on the tv series ‘Bonanza’ that he decided to wear no underwear in the ‘Little House’ series. Is this something we really need to know?!)

BECAUSE I was such a fan of the children’s books and later the tv series, I found this book fascinating. But fascinating in a car-wreck-I-can’t-look-away kind of way. There are parts of Laura’s life that I now wish I didn’t know. I will not be able to look at the books with the same innocence I always have in the past. As a fellow Missourian, Laura and Almanzo’s home in Mansfield, Missouri, is that of lore. Reading Prairie Fire gave me a different perspective into her life and that of her childhood.

I mean – of COURSE her life was not as idyllic as the books and tv show led us to believe. Her books were carefully categorized as fiction for that very reason. Yet it was still disappointing to allow my adult mind to understand what my child’s mind could afford to ignore.

As a history student in college I thought a study of pioneer women would be enticing to study someday. I suppose that’s because it is a time period that I do not believe I could have endured very successfully. The arduous trek across untamed America toward uncharted land…no calling ahead for hotel reservations! So it was interesting to read ‘behind the veil’ of the hardships the Ingalls and later the Wilders endured to settle land and build their dreams.

Yes, I recommend this book because it holds valuable insight into the trials and hardships of building America. (Only slightly touching on the Native American aspect of ‘building America’.)

No, I don’t recommend this book because it will taint your bucolic image of freckled-faced Laura and her adoring family.

Have you read it yet? Tell me your thoughts…

A CHRISTMAS MEMORY by Truman Capote

Illustrator Beth Peck elegantly illuminates the words of Truman Capote as he tells the story of the uniquely loving relationship between seven-year-old, Buddy, and his ‘sixty-something’-year-old distant cousin, living in the same house. ‘We are each other’s best friend.’⠀

They make cakes together every year as the weather turns cold and fly homemade kites when the weather begins to warm. They dance together around the house, laughing and enthralled in all that is happy in life, not like the other more burdened members of their family. She relies on his youth, he on her zest for life. “When you’re grown up, will we still be friends?” I say always.⠀

‘“Buddy, the wind is blowing” and nothing will do till we’ve run to a pasture below the house, plunging through the waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel the twitching at the string like a sky fish as they swim into the wind.’⠀

Satisfied and sun-warmed they lie in the grass, happy and filled with adventure. “You know what I’ve always thought?” she asks in a tone of discovery, and not smiling at me but a point beyond. “I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are…” – her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass – “…just what they’ve always seen, was seeing him. As for me, I could leave the world, with today in my eyes.”

HARRY’S TREES by Jon Cohen

What a fantastic book. It hooked me quickly and kept me on the line the whole way through. What a beautiful celebration of books and nature and great love. ⠀

⠀”To every story we bring the story of ourselves.”⠀

This book celebrated the freedom of forgiveness. The adventure of reading. The beauty of nature. The cost of holding on to self-perpetuated ‘truths’. The ripples of redemption. And as with every good story, it contained an enchanting touch of magic.⠀

“Get a book. Reading solves most things or at least assuages the heart.”⠀

I would highly recommend Harry’s Trees.

It never rains in California…

Rain rain rain rain. But at one point in the not so distant past, there was sun. And it played beautifully with the variegation of this Brasil philodendron.

Lemon lime in all its glory! ⠀

What’s the weather doing where you are?

THE GOOD NEIGHBOR by Maxwell King⠀

As Mr. Rogers hits the big screen with the ever-brilliant Tom Hanks as his representative, I thought I’d review a book I read this year – The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.⠀

Good Neighbor was an in-depth look into Fred Rogers’ life and built a solid foundation as to why Mr. Rogers became the man we knew and loved. It explains his background in detail, giving evidence as to his fastidious nature behind the scenes of his public television show. I have admittedly often written Mr. Rogers off as too saccharine or shallow when indeed Rogers was punctilious with the information he so gently passed on to the children of America, checking and double-checking its accuracy and impact. “He was fearless enough to be kind.” This sentence made me stop and think a moment. In today’s societal climate, who is being brave and fearless enough to be gracious? Fred Rogers was no pushover and he expected excellence, but he was above all else, kind-hearted.⠀

It was nearly impossible to divorce the juxtaposing thoughts about his work in the 70’s and 80’s with life in 2019. I remember when my son was young there was controversy over Sesame Street’s constant movement and changing from subject to subject on a dime vs the slow and purposeful movements of Mr. Rogers. ‘He worried about the lack of silence in a noisy world.’ I immediately imagined the tv screen of any news program on today, streaming news at the bottom of the screen, multiple boxes of people and layers of information – all in a simultaneous brawl for our attention.⠀

I certainly recommend this book however, I will warn you that it’s thorough about Fred’s history. At times I wondered if it was all necessary but found it was eventually helpful in viewing his depth of commitment and his passion for each child’s healthy development.⠀

We could all use a slow-moving neighbor with a sweater and tennis shoes who asks inquisitive questions about our life and sincerely tries to learn more about the things that affect our everyday existence. We could use one and we can BE one. This book motivates me to try harder to delve deeper into the lives of those in my own community.