{Review} Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Once upon a time, Henry and I decided to make a go of it in Western Massachusetts. Alice was just a baby then, maybe 18 months old, and I was seven months pregnant. Henry found a job in Greenfield, twenty minutes north of Northampton, and I left it up to him find an apartment. He found a newly renovated one bedroom on Bank Row, a few doors down from Main Street, facing the town green and around the corner from our favorite restaurant, Hope and Olive.

On a blustery January day, I loaded Alice and my extremely pregnant self into our little green Mazda protege, the trunk and backseat bulging with stuff that was too small to go into the moving truck, and off we went to Greenfield, where we met Henry and my mother outside our new apartment.

That was the beginning of the longest, most amazing year of my life. I look back and can hardly believe it was only a year. It feels like a lifetime. Reading Rebecca Barry's memoir, Recipes for a Beautiful Life,  that year comes rushing back. The move from big city to small city, surrounded by farmland, being poor in money but rich in friendship and love, and the natural phenomenons of the world that make you eternally grateful to be alive. Each story in Barry's memoir is redeemed by the kind of self-discovery that only comes when nothing's easy.

Be grateful. 

Hold space. 

Open your heart. 

Think small. 

Think big. 

This is hard, Barry realizes, but this is good.

Her husband tells her the book she plans to write, the book she did write, sounds like a lot of complaining. He's not wrong but for every complaint, every whine, every "woe is me," there is redemption. There is also much humor because one does not survive motherhood in the early years without a sense of humor and humility.

This is not a parenting book, but those who are in the thick of early motherhood will appreciate this book, this Not-A-How-To-How-To collection of stories that expose the sordid details of marriage and parenthood, the ones that lie behind the scenes of a life that seems romantic and wonderful and magical to everyone else. And the stories are funny because they are true. I know Rebecca Barry. I am Rebecca Barry. I know dozens of Rebecca Barrys. We Rebecca Barrys dream a world of farm shares, starlit summer skies, neighborhood coffeeshops, family nearby, friends at the ready with wine and cheese and bread and company.

Our dream ended after a year and we slunk back to New York, slightly depressed but also slightly relieved to be not-poor again. Despite our own failed attempt, I cheered Rebecca Barry on and willed her to stick it out, see it through, if only so I could live vicariously through her for as long as the book lasted.

Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories by Rebecca Barry is out from Simon & Schuster in April 2015. 

{I received an Advanced Reader's Copy of this book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}

On the Outside, Looking In.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


My eyes got watery, on the verge of tears, as I sat there, stone-faced, willing myself to not succumb at that moment to what I was feeling. Frustration? Loneliness? Isolation.

All of it.

And I felt stuck, having realized too late that THIS was not going to work. I tried to appear as though I were listening intently to the readers I couldn't see.

Oh, everyone is chuckling. I'll chuckle, too. 

Oh, everyone is clapping. It must be over. I'll clap, too. For a different reason. 

I'm working hard here but my gaze inevitably travels, and with it, my attention. I study the covers of books on the shelves around me. I stare into space. My fingers itches to open a book, to pick up a pen, to do anything but sit here and pretend I fit in. I feel paralyzed. It would be rude to just get up and leave with no explanation. And I'm certainly not about to put my hand up and request that we all sit facing each other. I'm loathe to invite pity of any kind.

So, I sit and bear it, willing myself through an hour and half of hearing, but not understanding.

Am I glaring? I hope not. 

I don't begrudge any of these people the privilege of hearing. I just want the same privilege. I look down in my lap, and look up again, hoping that my expression is friendlier. But I feel my face harden, almost grimacing.

For god's sake, are we done yet?

Finally, I get the cue that we are wrapping up. I put on my coat, and wait until it seems that it's finally, finally over, then I bolt for the door, saying goodbye to no one, and knowing I'll never come back.  Because, anyway, as I was sitting there feeling sorry for myself and drowning in my internal monologue, I realized that I don't want this kind of workshop anyway, where we write for twenty minutes, spend an hour and half listening to people read, then get critiqued on something written off the cuff. It's absurd, if you ask me.

So, that solves that problem. I have a legitimate, non-deafie excuse to never do that again, and have saved myself the trouble of sticking my neck out, of being the one that asks everyone else to change, to uproot, to adjust, to adapt. In this world, that's my burden.

On Sleep and Silence.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Did you see that article a few weeks back about how deaf people suffer from fatigue? How about all those hours spent processing what you are hearing, and doing cognitive gymnastics to make deductions multiple times in a single conversation, is just flat out tiring? As an adult, this is most certainly true, and it was even more so when I was a child. 
There are two surefire treatments to counter this fatigue, both of which are highlighted in Arianna Huffington's book, Thrive. Digital detox, meditation, sleep and silence are the keys to thriving in today's fast-paced, information-laden, data-driven society. From Left to Write club members read this book last year, and wrote posts inspired by the book but for this second read, to mark the paperback publication of the bestseller, we were challenged to try out one of the recommendations from the book, for a week. 
Awhile back, I stopped bringing my phone to bed with me, which is something Arianna recommends but since I was already in the habit of doing that, it's not much of a challenge, is it? Her sections on sleep and silence really resonated with me, and I realized that I need to more protective of my sleep and that I need to give myself some silent alone time, to give myself and my brain a break from the constant listening and deciphering I do all day long. I'm very susceptible to sensory overload-- too many people talking, too many kids touching me, too much visual simulation-- it all overwhelms me at some point and I don't always handle it in the most adult way. I always realize too late the reason for my reactions. 
So, my challenge this past month was to allow myself the time and space to be alone in silence, and to go to bed  by 9pm.  After a full day of teaching, I get into my car and I enjoy a good seven or ten minutes of complete silence, save for the muffled traffic noises outside my car. I used to turn the music on but the silence gives me time to decompress before picking up the kids.  Other times, I just announce to my husband, "I need to be alone," or "I need a break," and I go hide in my room until someone little person comes knocking (apparently, I'm the only one that can pour a glass of water or help them find a lost item.)  
Going to bed by 9pm every night was a little trickier. I was doing pretty well there for awhile, maybe a week or so and then the new season of  House of Cards happened... I watched two episodes a night before tearing myself away to go to bed, which was sometimes 9-ish but sometimes, later-ish.  The difference between going to bed at 9, and going to bed at 11 is palpaple. The nights I went to bed at 9, I woke up before 6, and had time to make lunches and coffee before the kids woke up, which made our morning routine run much smoother.  The mornings where I had gone to bed later than I should've, those mornings were rough. I woke up feeling not-at-all refreshed, harried and cranky. In fact, it is 9pm as I type this and I'm exhausted from staying up the past two nights to watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I started watching after I finished House of Cards. (So funny, by the way. Have you seen it?)  So, no Kimmy Schmidt for me tonight, if I know what's good for me. 

This post was inspired by Thrive by Arianna Huffington who challenges women to unplug and sleep more to create a balanced life. Join From Left to Write on March 19th as we discuss Thrive. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Adventures in Gardening

Thursday, March 5, 2015

When we moved to Redding, the property we rented included a vegetable garden that was already fenced in. That first summer, since we moved in July, we didn't do anything with the garden. The following summer, we planted directly in the ground with poor results. Last summer, we put in raised beds and did a much better job! We learned quite a few lessons along the way.

Lesson No. One: In a small garden such as ours, the square foot method of gardening works better than planting in long rows. We were able to plant a greater variety of vegetables, though we had mixed results owing mostly to our inexperience and less-than-ideal sun exposures, as well as some timing issues with the frost.

Lesson No. Two: Raised beds are the way to go! We bought some  high-quality organic soil from a local farm to fill the beds. For some plants, the beds really needed to be higher but overall, it was much better than planting directly into the ground, and we were able to mostly avoid the odious task of removing rocks from the soils.

Lesson  No. Three: If you want to eat salad all summer long, you have to dedicate more than two or three squares to lettuce. I think I made one salad last summer, thanks to rabbits eating our greens and not planting enough!


Those are the major lessons we've learned and this spring and summer, we are starting a new garden since we've moved since last summer. The garden is much smaller, so we will likely be looking at vertical growing and containers. When I saw that Blogging for Books was offering The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden for review, I jumped on it.

This best-selling book by Karen Newcomb was first published forty years ago, and it is easy to see why it is still in print.  In eight easy-to-read chapters, the book takes the gardener through everything she needs to know in order to prepare and nurture a small, high-yield vegetable garden. What I really appreciate is the chart that shows how many plants you need per person. One of the problems I have as a novice gardener is not having a frame of reference for how many people a plant will feed.

The book is very thorough, with detailed illustrations throughout, which is great for me since I often have a hard time visualizing how things are supposed to look and I like to have as much as information as possible, in terms of what to expect, before embarking on a project.

One of my goals this year is to plant beans, since we eat a ton of beans in our house. In the past, the idea of planting beans has been intimidating. I don't know why and it seems silly now, after reading the sections in the book that cover pole and bush beans. Newcomb explains clearly how to support the growth of beans in a small garden, with illustrations of various vertical bean-growing structures.

Right now, it looks like this outside:

And we've had two snow days in a row but surely, planting season will come again and soon. When it does, I'll be armed and ready with this book. It sits on my nightstand in the meantime, with its pages dog-eared. 

{I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. There are affiliate links in this post.}

Project Sweet Life

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My friend NJ invited me to participate in a new weekly series on her blog. Check it out! http://www.acookiebeforedinner.com/2015/02/project-sweet-life-nancy-from-the-real-nani/

A Mirror, Almost.

Friday, February 6, 2015

To be quite honest, I'd never heard of Andie Mitchell or her blog until I saw a Facebook post about her memoir, It Was Me All Along but when I read the excerpt, I recognized myself immediately. Never had I read anything describing my struggle with food and eating. I'm not very good at articulating my feelings or verbalizing my introspection. Part of it is self-consciousness. I don't like to focus attention on those aspects of myself that are negative. It feels like self-vicitmization, in a way, which is something I CANNOT stand, either in myself or others!
But in this touching, grounded, earnest memoir, I found the words that describe the emotional roller coaster that is my relationship with food. My childhood was not anything like Andie's but it was marked by periods of turbulence, as all childhoods are.  Andie astutely draws the line between her early memories of growing up in a working class home with an alcoholic father and an overworked mother, and her increasing weight gain caused by overeating and bingeing. She adeptly describes the thought process and flood of emotions that drive the decision to overeat and I was startled to find that I knew EXACTLY what she meant. I had experienced the very same phenomenon many times over, and still do.
I think it takes a special kind of person to put herself out there in the most vulnerable of ways, in a society that finds it embarrassing and shameful to talk about fatness, to be fat, even. I usually read memoirs to explore a perspective that is unknown to me, but this time, I read a memoir to understand myself better.

{I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. This post contains affiliate links.}


Monday, February 2, 2015

Last year, I followed Kim Werker's #YearOfMaking with delight, enjoying her creative process and what she produced.  She was making soap, doodling, crocheting, baking with her son, sewing, all kinds of making going on. I remember thinking: I could totally make one thing a day, no problem. I didn't even need to get as complicated as making soap.
So when she put out her ebook to help readers in their own #YearOfMaking journey, I took up the challenge,  on a whim, really and because I like to support the people I know in their creative endeavors. I bought the ebook and dove right in.

(Speaking of which, my friend Tim is self-publishing his first collection of short stories, We Regret to Inform You. He's a great writer, and a great guy. Check it out, and pre-order your copy!) 

This year, I resolved not to make any resolutions but in a way, the #YearOfMaking is a resolution. It is a resolution to indulge a creative side, to make room in my life for making and creating. It's a resolution I can get behind.

Jeez. I wasn't really anticipating that the #YearOfMaking would require so much effort, considering that I thought I already made a lot. It's not that I thought it would be easy but I thought it would come naturally to pop down to my sewing room or pull out some paper and coloring implements or whatever else I felt like creating. It turns out, I do make something everyday and it's usually food-related! That's not really the stretching I had in mind when I set out to do this. I didn't think I'd require so much energy or that I'd be too tired at the end of the day.

Why am I not carving out time IN my day for #YearOfMaking instead of waiting until the end of the day, when I'm really not at my best? I guess because during the day, I'm either at work or I'm tending to the household and the creatures that live in it.

I freely admit that I'm not disciplined and I never really push myself to a limit. if I can do it, I do it. If I can't, I either do it half-assed or just don't do it at all. The #YearOfMaking, I've come to find, early as it is in the game, is not just about indulging your creative side but it's also about challenging yourself, making a commitment, and following it through. (Definitely sounds like a classic NYE resolution!). It's about taking yourself out of your comfort zone and having the temerity to try your hand at something new. It's also about acknowledging the making you already do, on a daily basis, and not discounting that.

So, I'm still in this and I'm rechristening it 365 Non-Consecutive Days of Making, but I'll still be using the #YearOfMaking hashtag on Instagram.

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