THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett

I was glad to finally be able to sit down with this Book of the Month feature and all-around popular Bookstagram book, The Vanishing Half.

The concept intrigued me. Stella and Desiree are twins and both born light-skinned Black. Both of them wanting to escape the confines of their small town and to live a fuller life experience, they run away to New Orleans. But one twin, Stella, after easily passing as White, decides to leave her twin and join a race that was not quite her own, but one in which she had fewer limitations. Even Stella’s husband is unaware of her true racial identity.

Negroes always love our home towns even though we’re always from the worst places. Only White folks got the freedom to hate home.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, this interwoven, generational story captured my imagination with thoughts of ‘what if it were me‘ as well as ‘how could she do that?!‘ indignations. Just what the author, Brit Bennett, was aiming for, I’m predicting. What decisions lead us to live lives filled with secrets? Are they our decisions that determine that trajectory or are they the decisions made long before we are born? What masks do we each carry daily?

THE VANISHING HALF was an engaging story that explored racism, abuse, wealth and poverty as well as familial relationships and the ongoing dichotomy of mother-daughter relationships. How do we determine and define ‘family’? While provocative and a page-turner, VANISHING seemed to wrap up quickly and ended fairly abruptly and open-ended.

Perhaps I always think this, however, about characters I’ve invested in…

THE WATERGATE GIRL by Jill Wine-Banks

I’m really excited about this book. Honestly, Watergate was *around* when I was a kid, but I was too young to understand it. I just knew adults were talking about it – when it happened and years afterwards. ⠀

Jill Wine-Banks was an assistant prosecutor during the Watergate hearings. Her house was burgled, her phones were tapped, and even her office garbage was rifled through as she worked on some of the most important prosecutions of high-ranking White House officials. This book is her perspective of a monumental time in American history. ⠀

Thank you, Henry Holt Books, for this gifted copy. I am thrilled to get started!

Honest Abe

In December I met some friends at this coffeehouse – a first for all of us. The chai latte is good, but what drew me in was their clever play on the street on which the coffeehouse rests: Lincoln Street (in Roseville, California.)

Fourscore Coffee House is filled with old desks and comfortable sofas, tables and chairs tucked in along the windows and beyond.

This is a misleading picture of Abe. It’s actually a large mural on the wall – no doubt for selfies galore.

Scott and I packed up our laptops and books and headed here last week to have a “Family Meeting” about our gardening projects and expectations for the Spring. People huddled together, conversations exploding all around us.

I laid out my case of what I wanted to accomplish and what projects I was hoping he could build for me. I had my gardening bible, complete with tabs and more tabs!

We talked and hashed out plans. We each compromised. We dreamed big. We talked logistically. Home projects are our jam. I love to dream big and Scott usually is able to deliver the dream right out of his workshop garage. (The perfect combination!)

As we got up to leave, I noticed a cool neon sign on the wall behind us and took a picture of it. It wasn’t until I was thumbing through my phone pictures later that I realized the awesomeness of the sign! Fourscore and flowers – exactly what we were there to discuss!

Kismet, no??!

Scott and I have dreamed some big dreams together in coffeeshops all over the United States. Our first date was in a coffeeshop in Columbia, Missouri where we sat together playing cards and getting to know each other. Many conversations have crossed small bistro tables and steaming cups of coffee. Many of the projects realized. Some of them dreamt just for fun.

On the way home we stopped by our favorite garden center, Green Acres Nursery and Supply. We bundled up against the bitingly cold wind and walked around their outdoor flowers and spring plants. Our beds aren’t ready for planting yet – but man oh man is it fun to dream about the season to come. Especially when it’s next to my very favorite partner in project dreaming!

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.

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…

THE YEAR of MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion⠀ ⠀

It would appear to be a morbid book to read, yet this memoir about the year following Joan Didion’s husband’s death, was a systematic, matter-of-fact approach to try to make sense of the common process of grief. I mostly found it fascinating that our mind tries to make sense of something our heart cannot easily process. ⠀

Didion’s husband (John) had a sudden heart attack and died at home one evening. Didion recalls simple things like going to the hospital with the paramedics and her husband’s body to take care of the paperwork…’the regularization of death’. At the NYC hospital she recalls looking at the time and realizing that John had not died yet on LA time. Didion wondered, for a brief moment, if she could somehow stop him from dying before that California time arrived.⠀

The Year of Magical Thinking would be particularly fascinating to anyone who has grieved the loss of a loved one as they would surely find similarities in the way Didion processed her husband’s death. ⠀

As is common, she spoke of wanting to tell John something important, only to realize she could not. “It was as if I put the arrow in the bow, pulled back and just before shooting it realized he was not here to listen to my story, and I would release the arrow and set the bow back down.”⠀

Didion recalled the many times in their marriage that after having a dream she would tell John about it in the morning when they woke up “…not to dwell on the dream but to let it go.” As a reader I wondered how therapeutic this memoir must have been. To write about her process of grief. Not to dwell on death, but to let it go.⠀

After a year of grieving and looking back on what was happening the previous year between she and John, she realized that while his death occurred on December 30, December 31 would be the first day in which John was not a part of the previous year. That is when she began to move forward and her way of thinking shifted. “I began to allow him to simply be the photograph on the piano.”⠀

This was a fascinating book about the process of grief – universally experienced but very uniquely felt.⠀

A highly recommended book.

Semi-Stay-Vacation

Scott took a week of vacation this month and instead of packing it with the many activities we’ve done on vacations so far this year, we decided to have a more ‘quiet’ vacation week this time.

We decided to travel the breadth of Northern California. We live in the middle of this area, so we are spending a day on the west coast side, coming home, regrouping, then spending a couple of days exploring around Lake Tahoe on the east side – completely new territory for us! We’re very excited to make our Trial Run trip to Tahoe. It will be our first pancake. Our trial-and-error adventure so that next time, we’ll be even more prepared to know what to do and what not to do. We’re staying at an Airbnb in Carnelian Bay at the northwestern edge of the lake. I can’t wait to share it with you all!

But for today, some Pacific Ocean wandering along the Bay then over to Berkeley to reconnect with our hippie vibe. We love hanging out in Berkeley! I have a quick hook-up with an online friend in Oakland and then we’ll head back home – undoubtedly filled with more information about the Bay Area then what we’ve learned so far. In our other trips into San Francisco we’ve concentrated on all the touristy things to see. This time we hope to hit some more out-of-the-way places to experience the area in a whole different way.

It will be a fun adventure together. No pressures. No timelines. Just plenty of pictures and plenty of reconnection. We’ve needed the time together and are looking forward to being away from all the normal routines for rebooting and revamping our ways of communication and connection.

I hope you’ll enjoy discovering things along with us! Many more pictures to come, I’m sure…

grateful for a week of vacation…

Scott went back to work today after being off for a week. I am thankful for the week of vacation. I am thankful to be back to a routine. You know the feeling, right?

We all have different kinds of friends in life. It adds the spice to living. When we announced we were moving to California, almost to a person our friends said, ‘We can’t wait to come visit you there!’ It’s something you say, no? It just seems like the appropriate thing to lessen the upcoming distance in your friendship.

But not our friend, Rachel. As soon as we found a house here in California, she sent me a text with her available dates and asked, ‘When can I come?’ (big grin) For any enneagram followers, Rachel is an 8. She waits for no man! She strikes out and gets what she wants. A weekend trip to the west coast was what she wanted.

And we were more than happy to oblige!

Therefore, our week of vacation was spent preparing for Rachel’s arrival, the daytrips we took with her, and then spending some quiet evenings alone after she left – vegging and relaxing. It was the perfect week!

It was great having Rachel here. She is a bundle of sunshine and energy. But we were also glad to have a representation of Kansas City walking around in our California home. It was a nice connection to our home town and our first out-of-town guest.

We picked her up from the airport and drove to San Francisco – defying the rain to stop our plans. We ate seafood on the boardwalk and shopped at an adorable Marketplace on the pier that was filled with artisan cheese shops, meat and fish markets and everything in between. All local shops. Scott and I both want to head back there soon with a cooler in the trunk to buy some freshly caught fish and make – what I’m sure will be – the most amazing charcuterie board ever! We always look forward to going back to San Francisco. There’s so much to see and do. And there’s nothing quite like the smell of ocean air all around you.

I told Rachel my goal for the weekend was for her to be able to go home and say, ‘We saw the ocean and then the next day, we saw the mountains.’ That’s the greatest thing about where we live – we are a short drive to both extremes.

On Day 2 we drove to Calaveras Big Tree State Park to gawk at the enormous sequoia trees. For me and Scott, it was our first time seeing snow for the year. It was chilly but certainly not unbearable. Besides, the enormity of the sequoias and the immense height of the pines kept your mind off any cold. It was a beautiful, picturesque drive. We stopped to take the occasional picture (but never enough for me!) and even popped into a local donut shop in a small town along the way. After seeing the trees (and eating our picnic lunch in the middle of the park…but inside the warm car!), we stopped in a few antique shops in towns we passed on our way up the foothills. It was the perfect little daytrip.


(Scott is standing on the stump of a giant sequoia. For reference, Scott is 6’3″!)

We arrived back home in mid-afternoon as the Kansas City Chiefs were playing their play-off game against the Indianapolis Colts. We recorded the game so we could watch it a little later than the start time. We sped through the commercials and eventually caught up to the end of the game to watch with the rest of the world as the Chiefs decidedly, 31-13. We are now gearing up for the game on Sunday against the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship. All fingers and toes are crossed.

On Day 3 – and sadly the last day Rachel was here – we drove around our nearby town of Folsom. We spend a lot of time in Folsom as well as attend church there. We wanted to show her our little historic church where we attend as well as some area shops. We did a little shopping, grabbed some lunch, then drove by the Folsom Prison (made famous by Johnny Cash) before driving to the airport in Sacramento for her return flight home. It was a jam-packed weekend and it felt invigorating and adventuresome.

For the remaining days of his vacation, Scott and I worked on a few projects around the house and did the normal running around town for this and that. But mostly, we took it easy. We watched some favorite movies and we watched some new ones. We played card games (complete with thick banter and bullying) and Scott made some wood projects in his workshop (which I will blog about soon.) I worked on my California Adventures album (also, an upcoming blog post.)

Scott and I are good at doing hard things together and doing slothful things together… we are a good team and you know what? I really miss him when he’s gone back to work after being off for a week…

We continue to enjoy our life out here on the west coast. It’s also a lot of fun when others come and enjoy it with us. Thanks for a great visit, Rachel!

California or bust. (Spoiler alert: it was kind of a bust)

I had big plans to split up and blog our trip to southern California into segments based on all the places we visited.

Then the fires happened. It has been so sad here in California. And the thick smoke in the air is a constant reminder. That said, it was very interesting to be here while it was starting. I was fascinated – as a new Californian – to hear the new-to-me terminology and reporting. I learned so much that first day.

But as a result, we couldn’t get as close to the spots I had mapped out to visit. Hollywood, downtown LA, Calabasas, Santa Monica, etc. Instead, we went into the outskirts of Los Angeles and then took a different highway home. (Our original plan was to take Highway 101 on our way back north.)

So here’s a compilation of our few stops. Scott and I stayed in Ontario, California for a week – about an hour outside of LA – while he took classes for work. It happened during the daylight savings time change so our evenings were practically non-existent to be able to go sightseeing. So we planned on sight-seeing on our way home on Saturday and after class ended for the week at noon on Friday. The fires, however, raged on Thursday. So we quickly and deeply edited our list…

On Friday, Scott and I got in the car, checked the traffic to see which way to drive. Scott used to live in the Santa Ana mountains so he headed us further south toward Orange County. (You betcha I watched for Vicki, Shannon and Tamra at every intersection!!)

We took Highway 74 over the Santa Ana mountains which was absolutely fascinating for me – but I wasn’t driving on a two-way, winding road on the edge of the mountains. Scott did this even though heights are NOT his favorite thing!

(A very healthy grip -ha!)

I continue to be amazed at the difference in the mountains here as opposed to the Rocky Mountains – which I am more used to. But c’mon…where I’m from – the Midwest doesn’t have either so I have been loving all this new landscape to take in.

There’s been something about the mountains that I couldn’t quite pinpoint until this trip. I told Scott they look biblical! I can imagine the disciples walking through these valleys or Bin Laden hiding in a hole somewhere. I may be (…probably…) way off base but this is how I imagine the mountains of the Bible to look.

We stopped at the San Juan Capistrano Mission to look around. The swallows of Capistrano? This is the place. Swallows migrate 6,000 miles each year from Goya, Argentina to San Juan Capistrano in large groups.

But guess what I was more impressed with?! (just sort of joking) These cacti were huuuuuge! (Scott is 6’3″ tall for reference)

I mean! Again, I’m a Missouri gal. We don’t do succulents and cactus except in little pots on our windowsills. INSIDE! Is this even real?!

I really loved this cross and beads. It was large and heavy and….well, expensive. So I’ll settle for a picture of it.

We left the mission and drove to Dana Point Harbor at Doheny Beach. We walked out on the rock pier and I was NOT dressed for the occasion. But it was just a quick look at the Pacific Ocean for the first time since moving to California.

I promise to stop talking about them but this succulent was bigger than my head!

The picture below made me giggle a little bit. It made me think of all the filters you can buy on photo apps…

We ended up eating outside at a sweet restaurant. Salmon and delicious veggies at the perfect time as the sun set behind us. The cool breeze. The sloshing water on the boats. It was truly ideallyic.

…which ended with ice cream, of course. For the special cherry on top of a perfect evening.

These seals barking at the fishermen…… I die.

This was the view right outside our hotel. Three things to note: 1) Mt. Baldy loomed large everywhere we drove. 2) In-N-Out deliciousness and 3) All of this on G Street (big, stupid grin)

And then we drove home….

You see the mountains at the base of the picture. And the sad, red cloud of smoke hovering over it all.

The below picture is a little difficult to make out but you can see the Los Angeles city outline with the horrible cloud of smoke surrounding everything.

This was our view for quite a while as we headed back north – driving through the Sierra Nevada mountains.

By the time we got home around 9pm that night, our city of Fair Oaks, CA was thick with smoke and a very weird smell. It’s not a pleasant smell like burning wood or even a campfire. There is a chemical smell to it. Almost like a huge burning school nurse’s office. Our whole house had the smell – especially our garage. We tucked into bed, grateful to have a home to come back to. But also so very prayerful and saddened by those who were losing everything.

We had a wonderful trip together. We stopped at gorgeous fruit and nut farms and bought delicious fruits that we snacked on all the way to and from LA. We had delicious dinners together every night and saw amazingly beautiful country that was so very different than where we were raised. A lot of laughing and talking and being together in this new California Adventure. We were sorry we couldn’t see all the tourist sites but know that we’ll have other opportunities.

We are headed toward our mid-fifties and are determined to still experience and see new and exciting things. What a huge blessing. I am grateful, grateful, grateful.