Build Me a Valentine (or three!)

Last year, Scott made us a trashcan box since our kitchen trash has to sit out in the open. We have put it through the workouts since then and it’s held up fabulously. Sooooo (…of course…) I wanted more!

I wanted something similar to the trashcan for our laundry hamper. (By the way, I don’t know why I hate the word ‘hamper’ so much, but I really really do. -ha! No getting around it, though, it’s the best way to describe it for this post. Just know I would never use it in real life.)

We recently rearranged a big closet in our spare bedroom so I wanted to locate the hamper somewhere else. We have a hall area in between our bedrooms but I didn’t want an open hamper out there. Oh what to do, what to do?! (#firstworldproblems) So a trashcan revision was made into a hamper box. (For the record – both the trashcan and the hamper have open backs for plenty of ventilation.)

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You know how you get something in your head and it quickly becomes a random obsession? (Oh come on – that can’t just be me…) I now want to fill this glass canister jar with beautifully wrapped soaps. (World Market – I’m looking at you! They have the BEST soaps that are gorgeously wrapped.)

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Okay…back to the hamper sitch.

The trashcan box opens at an angle. The actual trashcan inside the box sits on a hinged platform that opens outward. It’s easier to dump trash and makes for an easy emptying of the trashcan too.

But the hamper has a simple door that opens with plenty of headroom for tossing clothes inside. It closes with a magnetic attachment at the door and inside face of the hamper.

I am so happy with it! As with most households, it’s also a nice landing spot for the things that need to be taken to other parts of the house. (Temporary landing spot. – wink, wink)

Hamper box: SUCCESS!

During Scott’s week off last week he finished up the hamper project than started working on a raised garden for my cut flowers.

Last spring he made some raised garden boxes that I used for a pretty display of flowers – similar to a window box. We eventually moved it to the side of the house and this past fall grew vegetables in it. This year, however, I wanted to grow cut flowers as if growing vegetables. In rows – nothing fancy – only used for cutting and bringing inside (or gifting to neighbors!) So I wanted it pretty simple, rustic even. The main thing is that it’s at my height which makes pruning and cutting so much easier. (I’m game for that!)

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Using cedar fencing posts he constructed a box, lined it with weed barrier liner, then ran a sprinkler system to it.

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This particular spot at the back of the house is BRUTAL in the summertime. It gets some pretty harsh southern exposure. But if last year is any guide, the flowers did well in it until the end of May. (We started in February last year too.) My plan is to make this a year-round raised garden, replacing the spring flowers with summertime plants and eventually a fall harvest.

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Time for one more project: a potting bench!

We mulled this one over numerous times. It took on various different forms until we finally combined two plans into one.

For the past 3 years we have slowly added to our outdoor furniture from IKEA. It’s all from the same line: APPLARO. (IKEA and their Swedish-named products -ha!)

The below picture shows two ‘wall units’ that you can add shelves to or a fold-out table, etc. It’s a very useful, modular patio system.

We decided to use two of the panels as a backdrop to a potting bench. I use whatever surface I can get to when I repot plants, propagate plants for sale, and general yard gardening. So I was VERY excited about this project! (Not that I wasn’t excited about the others too!)

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Scott found some workbench plans online that he liked as a guide but then he tweaked them to fit our specific wants.

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(Don’t judge the messy garage. Or please…DO shame us into getting this ‘secret’ part of our house FINALLY organized and cleared out!! A definite spring project!) Meanwhile, the potting bench project was coming along nicely.

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The next decision was staining. (WHYYYYYYY do I make things SO complicated by over-thinking such small decisions.) Basically, I want it to look like I found an old, abandoned warehouse where this decades old potting bench was covered with a huge dust cloth and VOILA’!, I find a perfectly useable, vintage potting bench.

But alas…… instead, I have to let nature do its dirty work on freshly made furniture. (Impatience is a noose around my neck! -ha!)

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After a few trial spots with different stains: gray, light brown, should-I-just-paint-it-white, etc., we decided to go with a dark stain to seal in the wood from the elements but that would (hopefully) get a little beat up over time until it’s the perfect “old” looking potting bench I envision.

Meanwhile – look how fantastically it turned out! I’m so happy with it!! Scott did an excellent job.

Let me assure you, however…

…even though I zhuzhed it up…

…that’s only for the picture. I plan on using this thing AS a potting bench – not a photoshoot opportunity!

But for now…I mean…I had to do a little bit of prop useage.

WHAT A WEEK!! Lots of projects envisioned, executed and finished! Scott has a lot of fun with the building part of the creative process (and he gets VERY creative with it. He usually takes plans several steps further to make sure things are SUPER safe and will withstand heavy usage. And many times he makes up the plans himself.) And I certainly love the dreaming up part of the process. But I think the BEST fun of all is sitting down together beforehand and hashing out all the details. There is a lot of “…like this?” and “no…that won’t work” and the occasional “just MAKE it work!“comments. Of course all of these items can be purchased somewhere. But making it fit exactly what we want is so much more fun for us at this point in our lives. There is plenty of frustration to be sure, but the fun of it is beyond measure. Each project is a true joint effort. And that, I believe, is what Scott and I do best.

Seasonal Affect Reorder

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

With over 3 million cases each year, winter depression is a recognized affliction that many people suffer from.

A helicopter crash that takes the future from young, ambitious lives does not help with the heavy feelings of dread.

I believe myself to be a fairly resilient person. Looking back over my life I see times that could have dragged me under, but through stubborn determination I stepped past the pain and into the future. I’ve found a certain amount of suppression is necessary in life.

But this helicopter crash is staying with me. In my mind. In my ready tears. I am not going to wax eloquently about my love for basketball or my love for Kobe Bryant because that wouldn’t be true. I nominally follow basketball and while I recognize Kobe as a tremendous basketball player, I don’t know much else about him.

My mind remains around his wife and other daughters. The spouses and family members of the other people killed in such a tragic way. But ultimately, the heaviness I feel is my own mortality. We all collectively feel it when something like this happens. The brevity of life. The delicate nature of relationships and how quickly they can vanish. What were our last words to them? Were we on good terms? Did I tell them I love them enough?

A little over a year ago, my husband and I moved away from our hometown. From family and friends. We had the opportunity to move to California and experience a new part of the country – so we took it. We have done our best to delve into all the adventures that surround us in this beautiful part of America. It has been renewing and filled with thrills and awe-inspiring views.

But it has also been isolating. Friends and family that I assumed were close when we lived in Kansas City are absent now from our lives. Unless I contact them first, our relationship would dwindle into nothing. And so I have chosen to allow it to do so in many cases. Not unlike a dating scenario, I have said to myself, “They’re just not that into you, Greta.” 

I have been deeply grateful for my father’s weekly phone calls. I call him or he calls me. We complain about politics and commiserate over this or that. He tells me about their latest adventure. I tell him about ours. It’s a two-way street. But most days, I just have the company of my husband to talk to. The occasional neighbor during the summer as we work in our yards. Thankfully Scott’s schedule has changed that will allow us to attend church more regularly and that will help build relationships.

But what to do with the relationships I considered solid when living in close proximity? Does one ever get used to letting those evaporate into the ether of time and location? How long is too long to pursue them? I don’t have those answers yet.

I am thankful we made a trip to our local garden center when we did. I excitedly brought home cut flower plants, dug deeply into the dirt of a raised flowerbed and watched as the rain washed them and soaked their tender roots.

After being mesmerized in front of the tv on Sunday, watching the horrific scenes and news unfold about the helicopter crash, I eventually turned it off and went outside. I cut a few snapdragon and ranunculus and anemone buds to watch them unfold inside the house as an attempt to reorder my affect. I harvested some lavender buds to enjoy their calming scent.

That evening I readily picked up the ringing phone to hear Dad’s voice. We talked about the Chiefs and the Impeachment Hearing and a trip Scott and I have planned this week. We talked about the beauty of a Madagascar boys choir that was featured on CBS Sunday Morning. We talked about the way celebrities can have such a strong influence on everyday people’s lives.

In a world of texting and social media comments and likes – there is nothing like hearing the voice of someone who is still actively pursuing a relationship with you. It doesn’t have to be a phone call every time. But reaching out and connecting with someone is a powerful way to say, ‘I’m still into you. I still care.’

———-

I am sincerely interested in your thoughts about adult relationships with family and friends. I’m interested in hearing about your experiences of moving away from everything and everyone – and how you started over again. Please comment below or send me an email. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

BROTHER AND SISTER by Diane Keaton

I am so very honored to have reviewed Diane Keaton’s new book, Brother and Sister. Thank you, Alfred A. Knopf for this gifted book.⠀

Diane Keaton book review from Botany and Bookends

We know her as spunky, eccentric, quirky and free-spirited. We love her fashion sense and decorating expertise and admire her longevity in film.⠀

Her newest book, BROTHER AND SISTER, gives a rare, inside look into the upbringing of Diane and her younger siblings, Randy, Robin and Dorrie. This book focuses on the complicated relationship with her brother, two years her junior. Diane and Randy were born in a typical 1950’s middle-class home to a doting mother and a hard-working father. As their family income increased, so did the size of their homes and their family unit.⠀

Randy is a deeply passionate poet (many of his beautiful works are woven within the book) and an artist with an equally complicated mind. Creative genius is often disguised as ‘disturbed’ or ‘peculiar’ and such was the life that Randy led. Succumbing to alcohol as a task-master, Randy’s familial relationships crumbled. ⠀

What is the responsibility of a family member when another continually pushes you away? This is a common question asked by all matters of families. As Keaton’s career began to rise, she shares of the extreme difficulties and loss she was experiencing in her family home. She wrote of specific movies (movies I have watched and loved) and what was simultaneously going on with her family. I see the movies in a completely different light now, imagining the difficulty she must have had while trying to work PLUS care for extended family members.

As so many of us are want to do, she asks herself if she did enough. Was I too closed-off? Should I have done more? Questions that haunt many of us while dealing with dysfunction of any kind.

I read this book in just a few sittings, but it is not an easy read. Keaton’s voice is heard within each story regaled. Her awkward optimism evident throughout. As a reader it is a bit jolting when we fully realize how ‘everyday’ our on-screen heroes are. This book shines a spotlight on that truth. ⠀

Perhaps this book will help you better understand that you are not alone. That family is not always easy and yet, as the years climb, our desire for understanding and our acceptance of reality reaches a more peaceful coexistence.⠀

I appreciate Keaton’s willingness to lift the veil on such a beautifully entangled area of her life. I am certain many will find a sense of commonality among her words.⠀

(book release in early February.)

WHISKEY WHEN WE’RE DRY by John Larison

UH-OH!! I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I just finished reading Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison and it might be the best book I read in 2020 – and it’s only January 13!

This book was storytelling at its lyrical best. WHISKEY was a gripping read – Midwestern true grit with a southern lit style prose. Each description, painted magnificently on the big, open skies of the 1800’s Plains.⠀

Orphaned in 1885, Jessilyn finds herself alone. Having learned sharpshooting from her father on their cattle farm, she sets out to find the only other family member she knows, her older brother, Noah, who left home years before and was now an outlaw on the run. Knowing the limitations and boundaries she would encounter as a female, Jess cut her hair, bound her body and rode into the outside world under the guise of a young man.⠀

The adventures and circumstances that ensue develop Jess’s strong character and resolve but do very little to answer the questions about her past. Her mother died during Jessilyn’s birth and her stoic father died suddenly, just as she was becoming a young woman.

“What started the war, pa?”⠀
“Stories, Jess. Stories. We tell ourselves the wrong stories.”

It was not difficult to make the parallel to much of what we listen to on the nightly news. Or experience in our own relationships. What wrong stories are we repeating? What wrong stories are being passed down, generation to generation? Culture to culture?

Her father taught her many things during her young life, not the least of which was to shoot a gun with precision. There was no way of knowing how well that would serve her in the years to come.

For many years Jess maintained her male identity. She developed friendships with other guys but never revealed her true story. Confiding only one time to an old lady her true past: “It was such a relief to hear this in the air outside, rather than echoing endlessly within.”

This is a coming of age story as well as a story of familial reflection and connection common to us all. Thank you, Anne Bogel, for your recommendation. This expansively beautiful story will ride with me for a while.

SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM by Joan Didion

 

SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM is the third Joan Didion book I’ve read in as many years. Her relatable voice holds its own unique place in journalism. I am awed at her use of language and her ability to beautifully sculpt a story out of seemingly ordinary beginnings.

The title, taken from a Yeats poem, represents a collection of essays written by Didion during the 1960’s. The essays are mostly about California (adding a personal benefit for me as a new Californian.) She talks about things like having dinner with John Wayne, growing up in the Sacramento Valley, and specifically about her journalism (…we would now say she was ‘embedded’…) during the Haight- Ashbury days in San Francisco. Among the many stoned-out hippies she encounters during her San Francisco travels she meets Susan, a five-year-old on acid. Susan tells Didion she’s in High Kindergarten. She lives with her mother and some other people, just got over the measles, wants a bike for Christmas, and particularly likes Coca-Cola, ice cream, and the beach. For a year now her mother has given her both acid and peyote.⠀

The chapter I connected with the most was: On Keeping a Notebook. She describes the odd and random things she writes in her notebooks. Things that wouldn’t necessarily make sense to anyone but her. Quotes that aren’t necessarily about the words, but the feeling evoked when she heard them.⠀

“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it… Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things. I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed.”⠀

Oh how I understand this sentiment. My children will someday find my notebooks of phrases and desultory thoughts and may very well give up looking through them and simply toss them away. My hope is that they don’t throw them away in youth, pre-50’s let’s say. They’ll find more use for them as they age. So much of what didn’t make sense before will eventually begin to weave together their history. Their shared story.⠀

SLOUCHING has been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I am so grateful to have read it for #theunreadshelfproject2020. Grateful that the words have now soaked into my marrow, the way all Didion writings do. This also checks off the #mmdchallenge to read something from the decade you were born (I’ll save you from looking it up: it’s the 60s. -ha!)

The book ended up heavily underlined by the time I was finished; ideas and phrases I want to be able to look back and remember. I’m so sorry I haven’t read this collection sooner. I thoroughly enjoyed it…proving that you don’t have to read the ‘latest’ books. This 1968 publication was just as relevant today. (Hoping this 1965’er can be as well!)

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.

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.

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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.

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.