Evening Poetry, June 15

Peonies at Dusk

by Jane Kenyon

White peonies blooming along the porch

send out light

while the rest of the yard grows dim.

Outrageous flowers as big as human

heads! They’re staggered

by their own luxuriance: I had

to prop them up with stakes and twine.

The moist air intensifies their scent,

and the moon moves around the barn

to find out what it’s coming from.

In the darkening June evening

I draw a blossom near, and bending close

search it as a woman searches

a loved one’s face.

This poem can be found in the collection Otherwise by Jane Kenyon.

Bird Therapy (Book Review)

Nearly every day I read articles about mental illness, burnout, and the stress of modern life. And do you know what almost always makes the list of ways to relieve or remedy the symptoms? Time spent in Nature! Time spent out-of-doors, away from screens surrounded by sky and trees, near bodies of water, in the company of birds and other wildlife will do much to calm the mind, relieve tension and stress, and leave one with an overall sense of wellbeing.

In Bird Therapy, Joe Harkness shares his personal story of living with OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression, and how he manages it with hours outside birdwatching. Let me just say that even though the book begins with his mental state in a dark and dangerous place, the book doesn’t stay there and doesn’t focus on his illness. It’s a positive read about how much his life has changed for the better because of what he calls “Bird Therapy”.

If you’re like I was before reading this book, you might tend to think birdwatching is for retired, elderly people or just for super nerdy types. But the author became a birdwatcher as a young man, so the book is written with a youthful voice full of energy and enthusiasm.

In each chapter, he shares a different glimpse of his birdwatching journey, from his very first attempts to connect with other birders, to setting up his first bird feeders in his back garden, to finding a patch to call his own. He describes experiences of rare bird sightings, interactions with other birders, regular visits to his patch, and what it is like to birdwatch in different seasons. At the end of each chapter, he shares a list of helpful tips for people who would like to begin the birdwatching adventure.

An interesting and positive aspect of this book is that it’s published by Unbound, a crowd-funded indie publisher.

If you or someone you know struggles with mental illness, you would benefit from reading this book. Also, if you’re curious about birdwatching, especially about how to get started, read this book. After reading Bird Therapy, I am paying closer attention to the birds all around me, and am spending more time outside every day. Published on June 13, this book is recommended reading! One last note: you might want to check out Joe’s blog, also named Bird Therapy, about his birdwatching experiences.

I received a free e-copy of this book from Net Galley, but all opinions are completely my own.

3 KidLit Favorites From Childhood

My mom has told me many times how I would wake up early at six months old or so, she would place me in my playpen with a pile of magazines and picture books, and then she would return to bed. When she came to check on me, I would be happily leafing through the pages–not eating them or tearing them up.

Perhaps you loved books at a young age too, and if you did, you probably have favorite stories that your parent or grandparent read to you over and over. My earliest book memory was of a hardcover edition of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I loved that book to pieces, literally.

Like countless other young children, I found the words comforting, and Clement Hurd’s illustrations of kittens, mittens, and a cow jumping over the moon fascinating. The quiet old lady whispering hush was a mysterious figure in my two-year-old mind. Saying goodnight to all the things in the nursery was a ritual that I looked forward to; each familiar phrase soothed and lulled me closer to sleep.

The second book that I loved as a kid was Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban. Have you read the Frances series? If not, go check them out at your library or purchase a few. Frances is an adorable, precocious young badger who, just like a young child, is learning to share, how to be a friend, that bedtime is non-negotiable, etc.

In Bread and Jam for Frances, she is being super picky and phobic about trying anything new. So her smart mother decides to give in to her and let her eat the only thing she wants–bread and jam. Morning, noon, and night. This works out well for a while, until Frances gets tired of the same thing and begins to hanker for what everyone else is eating. If you’ve never read these books, go get them. They’ll make you smile, and if you have small children around, they’ll love them too.

Another favorite book is part of a series: George and Martha One Fine Day written and illustrated by James Marshall. The George and Martha books are all HILARIOUS!!! George and Martha are hippo friends who get into awkward situations, play tricks on each other once in a while, learn about life and friendship, but are always there for one another. The illustrations will have you laughing just as much as the stories will. I read these books to my kids and they loved them too!

What are some of YOUR kidlit favorites?

Two British Mystery Series To Read This Summer

Last Friday, Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs Darcy shared an article from The Guardian about thrillers by women. In it, I found a few new-to-me authors I wanted to check out. After doing some reading on Amazon and Goodreads, I selected the first in Ann CleevesVera Stanhope mysteries, called The Crow Trap, and the first in Elly GriffithsRuth Galloway mysteries, called The Crossing Places.

There are several similarities to both series that helped me choose them:

1. They are set in the North East of England–Vera in Northumberland and Ruth in Norfolk.

2. They both feature women as the main characters; Vera Stanhope is a detective inspector and Ruth Galloway is an archeologist who is often asked to help in murder investigations.

3. Both women are independent, strong, quirky, middle-aged, and not beautiful by traditional standards.

4. The settings, both in rather remote places, are dark and atmospheric, the murders well-planned and the mysteries will keep you guessing until the end.

5. Both authors weave writing about local natural history, birds, and other local wildlife into the books.

I had watched some of the Vera Stanhope series on PBS a while ago, but never thought to look into the books the series is based on. I listened to The Crow Trap on audiobook and loved the narrator, so I’ll definitely be continuing the series in that format.

Vera, in character and looks, is unusual for a DI (as I mentioned earlier), but her sad, lonely past and present, excess drinking, and tendency toward brooding thoughts are on par with plenty of male detectives in other series. Her way of catching possible suspects off guard by pretending to take them into her confidence with warm, friendly chat is unique among the British detectives I’ve read. She’s likable, with all her rough edges and insecurities about her size and appearance, and she’s wily and always gets her murderer in the end. The latest in the Vera Stanhope series was published in 2017: The Seagull. Have you read it yet?

Because I simply could not wait for the library system to bring The Crossing Places (the first in the Ruth Galloway series) to my local library, I bought it for Kindle and read it two sittings. Ruth lives in a cottage near the Norfolk coast with salt marshes nearby. The changing seascape, the wind, the darkness and the isolated quality of her home makes me jumpy just reading about it. She works at a local University and helps the police in their investigations; the fact that she digs up bones for a living does help with the dark, creepy feel.

As often happens to main characters in mysteries, Ruth had a few brushes with death in the first book because she got too close to the truth; those scenes had me on the edge of my seat! I bought the next two in the series for Kindle as well: The Janus Stone and The House at Sea’s End and look forward to gobbling them up. And, if you are lucky enough to have discovered this series years ago and are all caught up, the new release in the series is The Stone Circle.

(Like I mentioned earlier, I am thoroughly enjoying the Vera Stanhope audiobooks. If you’ve never given Audible a try, now is a really good time! You can get two free audiobooks just for trying Audible free for 30 days.) 

If you’ve read either series or have one to recommend, I’d love to hear about it in comments!

Girl, Stop Apologizing! (Book Review)

Have you read anything by Rachel Hollis yet? Have you listened to her Rise podcast? If you’re an entrepreneur–particularly a woman entrepreneur, you need to read this book. If you’re someone who dreams of something more, but is afraid to try, this book is for you. If you have goals, but are in “the dip”, as Seth Godin so aptly named the space and time in between starting and finishing, you need to grab a copy of Girl, Stop Apologizing.

What I love about Rachel Hollis is that she has been at the bottom, but she had dreams and goals like a lot of us do, but she didn’t quit. She didn’t give up. This woman has drive and she knows how to focus on what she wants and does not give up though all the disappointments, all the setbacks, all the negativity that would crush most people. She’s not superhuman, she’s just dedicated, and she shows us how to go after our goals.

There is practical, usable advice in every single chapter of this book, but not one word is dry or boring. You won’t find your mind wandering or read it just because you know you should. Rachel is a great writer! She is hilarious, outrageous, and unexpected.

Another thing I love about her is her honesty. She shares deeply personal, even humiliating stories from her life experience because she wants us to know who she is, where she’s come from, and how she got to where she is now. She does not hold back and because she’s so real, she builds trust with her audience, and makes us listen to what she has to say.

Rachel comes against the patriarchal ways of thinking that have held women back for thousands of years. She addresses downright lies about what women are for, how women should behave or what we should want out of life. It is very liberating, life-giving language that, even in 2019, women (and men!) need to hear.

Her chapter “Choose One Dream and Go All In” or “Ten Years, Ten Dreams, One Goal” is worth the price of the book alone. In this chapter, Rachel explains exactly how to go after your dreams. This is priceless information! Her chapter “Planning”, about reverse engineering your goal, or starting with the end in mind, was another chapter I found extremely practical and helpful.

So, yep, it’s another highly recommended, “You Need This Book in Your Life”, book review. Get it on Amazon or your local bookstore or public library, but definitely put this in your TBR pile for this year!

Bird Cottage, (Book Review)

I just finished the most unusual and delightful book I’ve read so far this year! Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer is a novel based on the life and research of Len Howard. Len was born Gwendolen Howard in 1895 in Wallington, UK. She grew up in a bird-loving, artistic family–her father was a poet and dramatist–and became a violist with an orchestra in London.

After years of a successful musical career, she decided, at age 40, that she’d had enough of city life and that what she really wanted was to live quietly in the country observing and interacting with birds.

She moved to Ditchling in East Sussex, had a small home constructed, which she aptly named Bird Cottage, and lived the rest of her life with birds. The birds learned to trust her, would fly in and out of her house and even roost in her house in nesting boxes. They became familiar enough with her that they would land on her head, shoulders, hands, and feet. A few of them even came to her when she called. Len began to distinguish different calls and songs, and to understand the birds’ behavior through close, careful, continual observation.

Over the years, Len wrote for various nature magazines and wrote two books: Birds As Individuals and Living With Birds. She became more reclusive as she got older because she was so focused on not changing things in the birds’ environment. When guests would visit, for example, the birds were unfamiliar with these newcomers’ gestures and voices and would stay away. This would set back her research for several days.

Sadly, because she was not a trained scientist and she focused on bird behavior and relationships rather than measurable, quantitative observations, none of the scientific journals would take her seriously and publish her research. However, her writings did raise the general public’s awareness to the importance of birds and the habitats they needed to thrive.

What was wonderful about this book was the way the author interspersed chapters about Len’s life, from age ten and onward, with chapters containing fascinating stories about particular bird friends at Bird Cottage. Even though it was fictionalized, it felt as if I was reading a biography.

Whether you enjoy books about birds, nature writing, or people who follow their own path in life, you will absolutely love this book. I highly recommend it!

I received a copy of Bird Cottage from Pushkin Press, but all opinions are completely my own.

Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man (Book Review)

We live in a world that makes a fuss over men who run around chasing each other and throwing balls for a living. We make idols of surgically-enhanced actors or actresses in superhero constumes or singers who leave their pants at home when they perform. We love spectacle. We love drama. We love obnoxious, outrageous behavior. But, much of the time, the true heroes are those who live out of the limelight, serving their fellow humans every day with whatever resources they have.

The book Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man by Anne-Sophie Constant is the story of a true hero. Jean Vanier was a hero to all the people whose lives he touched through his love, kindness, and practical care. He was a man who quietly lived to serve people whom society would call “the least of these”. He saw each person inside the disability or deformity that would send most of us running in the opposite direction. He saw their worth, and even, their beauty.

Jean was not planning to spend his adult life in this way: he had been in the navy, then lived a very religious life of meditation and prayer, and, for a short time, as a professor.

What changed him was a visit to a care home for those with intellectual disabilities and his interactions with two of the men there. “I heard this mute cry…a cry inviting me to be their friend.” After that visit, he couldn’t stop thinking about those people. So he began to visit the places where disabled people were kept and he was appalled by the miserable conditions in which they lived.

Jean decided to purchase a small house and invite some of the disabled men to live with him. At this point he had no financial plan to support them, but acted out of the impulse of love. And just by being willing to take the first step and reach out to those in need, the rest of what was needed followed. People volunteered to serve, a board of directors was formed, Jean chose the name “L’Arche”, and they began a life of community, of family, in this little home in Trosley in the North of France.

What began as a way to serve the needs of a handful of people with disabilities flourished into a worldwide movement. Today there are 154 L’Arche communities worldwide on 5 continents. When I visited the L’Arche website, with all those beautiful faces, my respect grew even more for Jean Vanier and his life of love and service.

I highly recommend this book, which will be published on August 4th, to those who want to read about people who really made a difference in the world and whose legacy continues to change lives after they’ve passed on. Jean Vanier’s life made a difference to many and will continue to do so for years to come.

I received a free e-galley from Net Galley, but all opinions are completely my own.