I’m no Julia Child

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

3 words: enthusiastic, personal growth, amiable

OK, I’m seriously no Julia Child. 

But I’m seriously part of her fan club.

That Julia, she's all about pursuing her passions and personal development and learning. And I really love hanging out with people like that. 

Lifelong learners, you are my tribe.

This book’s been around for years, and I only stumbled on it because Gretchen Rubin wrote that one of her favorite posts was the one she’d written about My Life in France.

And it made me want to read Child’s book. Bientôt!

And while I knew only a few facts about Julia Child when I began reading, I liked her immediately. And her story of self-discovery and self-actualization completely resonated with me. 

Here's what’s great about this book:

First, Julia's voice is clear and brisk and confident and engaging. It's fun to read her words. 

Second, it's also the story of a marvelous partnership. She and her husband Paul supported one another's interests and worked together as a team.

Third, it’s a celebration of mentorship and collaboration. Julia gives full credit to her teachers and the other chefs who inspired her, and to her early co-authors and colleagues.

Finally, this is one joyful memoir. It's downright jubilant. Once Julia found her passion, she threw herself into the hard work of mastery, and she conveys the delight she took in the work. It made me happy to read about it.

How about you -- ever read a memoir that made you happy just reading it?

My top 5 favorite podcasts

So here’s the weird thing about me & podcasts.

While it would be predictable that my favorites would relate to books… they actually don’t.   

So today we’re gonna look at my top 5 favorite podcasts… the ones that I always choose first. Every single time I go for a run, one of these is in my ear at least part of the time.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home and Better Than Before, co-hosts this podcast with her sister. I love everything about it: their rapport, the subject matter, their regular segments (demerit & gold star).

Darren Rowse, you’re making me a better blogger! (I have miles yet to go, but this guy is seriously informative and helpful and inspiring.)

Amy Porterfield is an online entrepreneur, and her podcast is designed for others in that field. And even though that’s totally not me, I find her enjoyable to listen to. Also, she’s friendly and encouraging, and I like that, too.

A podcast custom-made for me? This is it. Presented by a Washington Post reporter, and featuring lots of heavy hitters in the presidential biography world, each episode describes one U.S. President and his times.

Those Brian Lamb C-SPAN author interviews? They’re available as a podcast. Often he interviews authors of nonfiction books about politics and history, and those are usually my favorite episodes. 

So that rounds out my top 5. Stay tuned for future posts about the bookish podcasts, the lifelong learning podcasts...   

What I'm saying is: I got lots more to say about podcasts. 

What are the podcasts you can’t get enough of?

A new favorite children's book

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

3 words: charming, old-fashioned, feel-good

UNIVERSE!!!!! Why didn't you give me this book when I was a child?

I seriously would’ve loved it.

I mean, I’m seriously loving it as an adult, though: some of the magic that would’ve been there as a kid… let’s face it: it diminishes with age.

Still, this is one of those lovely books about childhood, that does all the usual things. Only it does it better than most books.

The language alone got me. Like this: 

"He had a cowboy hat on the back of his head, and four pistols stuck into his belt, and a plastic ray gun in his hand. 'I heard there's a guy here who likes to play Space,' he announced.
Foster rose from his chair. 'I'm who he is,' he told the boy."  (p. 20)

See? Charming.

Here’s what goes on, plot-wise:

First, the parents are dispelled with, because parents are a buzzkill in children’s books. So Portia, who’s spending the summer with her aunt and uncle, and her cousin Julian are allowed to wander off for All Day Long, with very little explanation of their whereabouts.
(Granted, the book was published in the 1950s, and It Was a Different Time Back Then. But still.)

And there’s the typical boy-and-girl close childhood friendship that often happens in books, but not so often in real life. (Am I wrong about that?) Though here it’s a friendship between cousins, so I found it more plausible.

And Portia and Julian, while roving in the woods, encounter a tumbledown series of houses that have been almost abandoned. Except that an older lady and her brother inhabit two of the houses.

At first, I wasn’t sure if they were real people or ghosts. (I’m not gonna tell, either.)

Anyway, they’re delightful, and they invite the children to take over one of the other houses as a clubhouse.

And dang, that was totally my childhood dream! They have a secret hideaway, people! And they decorate it!

Oh, it’s a lovely book.

And I’m still mystified over how it eluded me for so many years.

Here’s how it finally presented itself to me:

First, I was listening to the What Should I Read Next? podcast, episode 21, in which Anne suggests books to her 8-year-old daughter. And Gone-Away Lake was one of the books. (I put it on my TBR right that minute.)

Then I was looking for a children’s book for our book club, since often we read children’s books in the summer. And I looked at one of Gretchen Rubin’s posts about the children’s literature groups she belongs to. And guess what book was on her list of favorites?

And now it’s one of my favorites, too.

So, my fellow adults… What children’s book did you discover only in your dotage?

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Weeding My Books

I just finished KonMari-ing my house, according to the precepts of Marie Kondo. 

I full-on drank the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Kool-Aid, and I’m happier and lighter and freer for it.

Don't worry, little ones. You're not going anywhere.

I kept skipping the part about purging the books.

“I’ll get to it later,” I said.

“I’ll save that for last!” I said.

And finally, this is what I said: “Forget that.

It’s not because I’m a book hoarder who’s out of control. I occasionally do a sweep through my shelves, land upon the books I know I’m never gonna read, or never gonna read again -- the ones that I won’t miss if they’re gone.

And I haul those puppies off to donate to the library.

And then I feel a little bit happier when I look at my shelves, because all of the remaining books have been re-selected anew.

But this idea of pulling all my books off the shelves, picking each one up off the floor, and asking myself whether it sparks joy…  I ain’t doin’ it.

Here’s why:

I get that joy feeling (or not), simply by looking at each book on the shelf. Lots of them -- most of them! -- spark joy when I merely look at them. End of story.

That ugly green statistics textbook from college? Keeping it. It still sparks joy. (I know: not normal. But I’m ownin’ it: that statistics book makes me intensely happy.)

That single-volume encyclopedia of the Civil War? Keeping it. It still sparks joy. (My Civil War obsession years were delightful, and I stinkin’ love that book.)

My full set of Trixie Belden mysteries? Keeping them. They still spark joy. (I love having them on my shelves, and I’d be sad if they were gone.)

So I’m continuing with my occasional collection weeding ways.

And I’m not alone. Summer Brennan wrote about this phenomenon on Literary Hub. She says, “It’s a useful exercise to clear the cobwebs from one’s bookshelves once in a while, but don’t let anyone talk you into getting rid of your books if you don’t want to, read or unread.”

And I say, Amen. 

So... what’s your take on weeding your shelves?

How to Love Where You Live

This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick

3 words: personal, informative, domestic

“What if a place becomes the right place only by our choosing to love it?” (p. 15)

Interesting question, right?

I’m super lucky, because I’ve loved my town since I first laid eyes on it. In many ways, it chose me first.

But ever since then, I’ve chosen it over and over again, and I feel rooted here. But when I read this book, I realized that my roots aren’t nearly as deep as they could be. 

And I liked the book so much, I didn't even mind the discovery that I still had a lot of work to do. 

This book is a wonderfully pleasant mash-up of personal narrative and handbook.

As the book begins, Warnick and her family are on the verge of moving to Blacksburg, Virginia, after several moves in their recent past. And she’s decided to love where she lives.

So she does the research, and then she walks the walk.

It’s rather Happiness Project-esque, and coming from me, that’s a huge compliment.

Warnick is a cheerful guide through the ways a person can become more attached and more fond of her community. I liked hanging out with her in these pages.

And I was impressed by the work she did to connect herself to her new city.

Though occasionally I longed for introvert-friendly variations on some of the steps. I just gotta tell you: There ain’t no way I’m inviting everyone on my block to my home for dinner anytime soon.

But many of the tips are easy and fun.

For example: “Find a place in your town to become a regular. Clues: Google the name of your town with ‘hidden gem,’ ‘local,’ ‘secret,’ ‘neighborhood,’ or ‘undiscovered.’”  (p. 179)

And this one: “Read about your town’s history so you have a better sense of what it’s been through.” (p. 243)

Each chapter concludes with a “Love Your City Checklist,” and while some of the stuff I’m not doin’, I was glad to have some items to put on the to-do list.

And I learned that my house has a Walk Score of 70 -- very walkable. (I already knew this: I can walk to the DQ and the library, so basically I’m all set.)

And I walked the walk a little bit, too…  literally.

I walked (walking is one of the ways to love your city) to a locally owned cafe (buying local: that's another way) that’s a few blocks from my house, and I sat in the shade and looked at the sunshine on the old buildings, and I ate wonderful food and I read my book.

This is what it looked like, and it was heaven.

So this book offers tips for people who already love where they live -- you can always take it up a notch -- but especially for those who don’t feel particularly connected to their town. 

So, good people… What do you love most about where you live?

Currently: seriously summer

Loving | This fortune cookie pin from Duck Duck Goat, because I am ALL ABOUT THE JELLO

Reading | I've been positively binge-reading This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick, which I'll write about soon. I've started to read and take notes on Start with Why by Simon Sinek. And on my iPhone: the ARC of the compulsively readable memoir The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy. (Thanks, NetGalley!) I feel awash in wonderful books.

Listening (the books) | My third time reading The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, and this time I listened to it. And I gotta say... this book works better for me on the page. I prefer my interpretation of Eli's tone -- way funnier and sadder. My iPhone listening: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, which I'm liking as much as Julz said I would (and that's a lot). 

Listening (the non-books) | The Presidential podcast entered my consciousness over the past couple of weeks, and I’m completely wild about it. Each President gets his own episode, hosted by Washington Post reporter Lillian Cunningham, who often interviews people like David McCullough and Bob Woodward. (Did I squeal? Yes, I did.)

Learning | Speaking of Presidents... While visiting the Museum of Broadcast Communications, we saw the exact camera that was used to film the Kennedy-Nixon debate. (I nearly passed out.)


Watching | Olympic swimming trials... Anthony Ervin, whose book I fully adored, qualified for the Olympics. AGAIN! And it was only mostly awkward when the post-race interviewer asked him 3 times (!) about the fact that he qualified for the Olympics at the remarkably advanced age of 35.

Celebrating | On some recent glamorous vacation days, I KonMari’d my household cleaning products, hardware, and linens. I know: way too much of a good time. But dang, things are lookin’ good.

Anticipating | On deck: Cubs game!  

Bookish tourists on the Black Hawk Trail

Black Hawk: An Autobiography by Black Hawk

3 words: personal, dramatic, frank

While on a recent road trip, the Dear Man and I noticed a fair number of references to the Black Hawk War. And then we realized that we were living right in the middle of a place filled with history, and we knew precious little about it.

Being industrious, curious types, we set out to fix that.

The Dear Man asked the Librarian if she'd considered reading Black Hawk’s autobiography.

Flash forward one week, and I had a copy in my hands.

Flash forward another week, and he also had a copy in his hands.

And then we started learning all kinds of cool stuff about a nearly forgotten period of history.
If you'd asked me what I had on the Black Hawk war, I would've said, “Um… young Abraham Lincoln?”

Cuz, YEAH: dude served in the Illinois militia (never saw battle, but buried some scalped soldiers).

The cool thing about this book is that it's told in Black Hawk’s words. Or at least, sort of. My only real complaint with the book is the inclusion of way too many exclamation points and italicized words for emphasis. And in some places, I doubted that Black Hawk would have spoken in the way the words were written on the page. 

But at least we get his viewpoint.

And that's explanation enough for this book to still be in print more than 175 years after its initial publication.

This is a book that doesn't go down easy.

I found myself seething at the way Black Hawk’s people's land was taken from them.
I kinda got worked up.

Then I recalled the passages where they're doing the scalp dance, and I shuddered.

Then I thought about them approaching the militia with a white flag of peace and being fired on. And I got worked up again.  

It was fascinating to see the episodes through Black Hawk’s eyes, and to understand it from his perspective. He’s narrating the story as an older man, near the end of his life, and while he’s faced plenty of hardship, his spirit is still lively.

Besides describing the battles and difficulties faced by the Sauks, Black Hawk also paints a detailed picture of their daily life.

Visiting the Hauberg Indian Museum, located at the Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island, Illinois, reinforced the descriptions of the Sauks’ annual cycle of farming, hunting, and trading. The museum has a fine display, some great artifacts, and some really good maps that helped us find our way to the area nearby where Black Hawk was born and lived.

We read the Donald Jackson edition, which is also the edition on display at the Hauberg Museum, so it's got some decent cred.

The thing I liked about this edition was Jackson’s terrific introduction. He sets the scene, including some unexpected details, such as a riveting description of Black Hawk’s hair in comparison with the hairdo of Andrew Jackson.

And Donald Jackson analyzes the validity of the autobiography and its various versions over the years, and that's good stuff, too. 

So... what books have inspired you to take to the road?

Reading on the 4th of July

Happy 4th of July, my fellow Americans!

For those moments when we're not watching fireworks and picnicking and doing all the things we do, here are some Revolutionary books that fit the spirit of the day.

1776 by David McCullough
The book that contains the unforgettable scene in which George Washington goes out into the middle of a frozen river and jumps up and down to test the strength of the ice, before sending horses across. Takes my breath away every time I think of it.

George Washington: A Life by Willard Sterne Randall
Yes, this is the time I alluded to the Brady Bunch when talking about our first President.

Thomas Jefferson by R. B. Bernstein
A remarkable portrait of a wildly complex Founder. 
(Super thrilling flashback to 2010: the author commented on my blog!)

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Everyone's talking about the musical, and this book is the source material. It's amazing! (...says the woman who accidentally listened to the abridged audiobook version and may never let herself live it down) 

All you history readers out there... What are your favorite Revolutionary books?