The Recommendeds: Six Different Versions of Home Built Around Six Dreamy Settings

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. – Maya Angelou

Home. It’s a wonderful word isn’t it? Hard to define, but wonderful to say, it means so many different things to so many different people. Even the dictionary doesn’t quite know how to accurately and clearly define it. Depending on the context, home can mean anything from a shelter to a territory, an instinct to a direction, a feeling to a destination.  Such powerful concepts wrapped up in one short little word.

Recently, I’ve encountered a slew of interesting books and movies centered around the symbolic meaning of home. How the need for it is universal, like Maya Angelou said, but also how the journey to find it is completely personal and unique. The selections listed here, focus not only on the literal kind of house made of actual walls and roof-lines and windows, but also the figurative kind.  The place or the space where you feel most comfortable. For some in this list,  that home is their workspace- a place to dwell daily with a like-minded tribe of people. For others, it is a grass-is-greener dream of a city far away. For one woman in particular,  home is not a house at all, but a garden yet to be built.  For another, home is not only an actual house but also a palpable feeling – a place to connect and collect all that soothes and comforts. And for two others, home is a placeholder, a time keeper, a catalog of memories waiting to be recalled.

From the city of Paris to the beaches of the Bahamas; from the inner workings of America’s best loved museum to an artistic collection of everyday items discovered in a humble house; from a Riviera retreat to an English garden…  these are the six shining examples of people and places that tie together a universal and compelling need to identify our own environments.

Let’s look…

1. Museum – Danny Danziger (2007)

 

If you ever wanted to know all the nitty-gritty details of what’s it like to run a major museum than this is the book for you. On average, New York City’s  Metropolitan Museum of Art welcomes about 19,000 people a day through its front doors and houses over 26,000 pieces in its collection. Told in interview style,  Museum is a behind the scenes look at what it takes to keep one of the world’s most iconic landmarks up and running, day by day, from the perspective of 50 of its employees.  Covering all aspects of the building, and a wide range of jobs from maintenance to security, cafe operations to curatorships, the executive board to the gift shop sales team, it doesn’t take long to understand what a massive undertaking is required to keep America’s most favorite museum running smoothly.

Like most enterprises, the heart, soul and success of a business lies in the employees that represent it. And the Met is no different. Some people in this book lucked into their museum job having little experience, while others spent many years studying to become experts in their field. Others worked their way up from volunteer positions to eventually become part of upper level management and some were still just as happy fulfilling the same position they started decades ago. One thing they all have in common though, is their awe and appreciation of their workplace. To them, the Met serves as a refuge. A place that requires  protection and support and endless amounts of attention. But not in that needy way that eventually grinds you down. To all these workers, the museum is majestic  – an irreplaceable gift of history.

Very aware of their own pivotal role inside the bustling metropolis that is the Met, what I loved most about this book was everyone’s sense of pride in their appointed tasks. The floor buffers hold just as much respect for their workplace as the director of the Museum. The information desk clerks are just as excited to chat about art as the tour guides. The cafe waitstaff is just as devoted to their kitchen counters as the collection curators are to their galleries.  Everyone loves the Museum and wants to see it shine.  Of course there are days when not everything goes right or runs in tip-top fashion and that gets discussed too.  The highs and lows that come with real-life don’t stop at the museum doors, but for the people who work there, trivialities and minutia don’t hold a candle to the sheer magnificence of the place. Tucked in-between all these fresh voices, with their fresh perspectives are a plethora of fun facts and interesting details about how a museum really operates from the ground up.  Sure, the Met is home to priceless pieces of art, but it is also home to thousands of workers who feel like they belong there too, just as much as the art.

2. Villa America – Liza Klaussmann (2016)

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If there is one enviable couple that gets referenced most in the circle of friends that included Hadley and Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald,  John Dos Passos, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker and many other icons of Paris’ golden age in the 1920’s and 30’s, it is Sara and Gerald Murphy.

Sara and Gerald Murphy

Mostly known for their stability within this eccentric group of writers and artists, Sara and Gerald were the enigmatic muses that inspired much of their friends work, including F. Scott’s main characters in Tender Is the Night.  Fun loving, family focused and inventive, Sara and Gerald’s relationship within their marriage was stuff of legend – so loyal, so strong, so well-connected it seemed as if nothing could or would tear them apart.

Villa America

Escaping the U.S. for Paris in the early 1920’s led them eventually to the French Riviera and a house they called Villa America.  There, the Murphy’s set out to create a carefree, whimsical paradise for their friends and family to enjoy year after year.  Villa America (the book) is a fictional account of the real-life circumstances wrapped around the Murphy’s idyllic, dream-like lifestyle. Weaving together stories of illuminating dinner parties, interesting friendships, and fanciful family outings,  a darker side to the Murphy’s and their circle of friends is also revealed. One that it is fraught with tragedy and misunderstandings, muddled moods and illicit intentions. Through it all, the house sits center stage, a witness to the people and events who come and go.

What is particularly fascinating about this book is Liza Klaussmann’s interpretation of characters and conversations surrounding  Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Lots of known cliches and generalizations float around these two men – that F. Scott was dashing and amusing, a drinker and a romantic, and that Ernest was gregarious, rowdy and an ultra-masculine rough and tumbler. But in Liza’s book, you experience other sides of these two as well.  F. Scott, for all his charming ways is also difficult, overly dramatic, and high-maintenance. Ernest shows up as a ball of opposites –  egotistical but also compassionate, needy but reckless, dominating yet keenly aware of other people’s fragile vulnerabilities.

The environment is lush with details. F. Scott is trying to write his way through novels, gathering source material for his characters from the real friends around him. Like all the other men, he finds himself captivated by Sara, irrepressibly drawn to her emotional maturity and warmth – both appealing characteristics that seem lacking in his own wife.  Zelda, meanwhile,  spends her days romping around the Riviera trying to sort through her own desires. Signs of unusual behavior start to manifest. But no one yet realizes that this troubling behavior has much less to do with Zelda’s natural personality and much more with the start of her slow slide into mental collapse. Likewise, Gerald also escapes into the recesses of his mind, where he begins to question and explore feelings about his own sexuality that extend far beyond his loving marriage to Sara. On the verge of break-up themselves – Ernest, with his wandering eyes and Hadley with her general sense of unease in the glittering Riviera world – are awkwardly together trying to navigate the terrain of a not very well matched marriage.  Sara, sensing the unease of all of these situations silently swirling around her, tries to protect her friends and her family in the sheltered, safe space that she is determined to create at Villa America. But for all of Sara’s best efforts in trying to keep cruelty out of the compound, emotionally difficult situations sneak their way in raising questions about the true meaning of home, family and friendship.

3. Paris I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down – Rosecrans Baldwin (2013)

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Staying on the topic of Paris but moving ahead a century, Paris I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down is the memoir of a burnt-out New York City ad man who moves to France for a new job while simultaneously working on a new novel. Tired of the New York City grind, Rosecrans Baldwin is ready to find his paradise in Paris. He has a mood board already mandated for his life before he arrives… the wine, the food, the beautiful architecture, the beatnik lifestyle, the art, the cafes… all those lovely picturesque elements ready for the taking. But what he didn’t count on was what life would be like in reality as an American, not only living, but also working in France.

From day one, Rosecrans is a fish out of water. He finds that daily life in Paris is very different compared to daily life in New York City. When he takes a job at a French advertising agency, he discovers that the same could be said for office culture as well. The language is a problem (too fast), social interactions with his new co-workers are a problem (do you shake hands during first meetings or kiss on both cheeks?), lunch is a problem (never at your desk), even the fundamental pattern and processes of handling ad business is vastly different.  In New York, Rosecrans was used to working long pressure-filled hours, at a fast pace, developing ideas that had to consistently ring true and be brilliant. But when Rosecrans gets to Paris and his new workplace, he discovers many unusual circumstances.  People leave the office at 5:00pm whether their work is finished or not. Many of the office staff grab a glass of wine together after work before heading home.  Gift cards to local restaurants in the neighborhood are given to each employee to ensure that they take time for lunch. They work on one campaign at a time, for one client at a time. No one ever gets fired. No one is ever expected to come in early, skip lunch or stay late. It wasn’t like New York at all. No one lived at the office and just visited their home spaces. Rosecrans found himself navigating a strange, foreign land, both literally and figuratively.

The result of all these oddities and differences yields a hilarious look at real-life in Paris.  Most books written about Americans moving to France focus around their love affair with the city and a charming newly discovered lifestyle which they are eager to adapt quickly. Rosecrans’ book is the opposite. He voluntarily chose to move to Paris. But then, once he gets there, he constantly questions that choice as he moves through his daily “French dream.” He discovers that Paris is not quite the paradise he imagined. Fundamentally uncomfortable in a lifestyle he thought he would naturally love, Rosecrans paints a funny, bizarre and gritty picture of the everyday side of the city that often gets overlooked.  In his world, it was definitely not all views of the Eiffel Tower and beret clad artists. It was not all joie de vivre and buckets of baguettes and walks along the Seine. No, this was a different side of Paris altogether.

How does it all shake out for Rosecrans in the end? Does he stay in Paris, eventually embracing all the differences? Or, does he return back home to the New York, to the city he knows and learns to love again? You’ll have to read it to find out:)

4. Island Style – India Hicks (2015)

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Being the daughter of famous 20th century British designer David Hicks and the goddaughter of Prince Charles might yield an intimidating presence. Especially when her natural born talent of interior decorating has made her a style expert in her own right. But nothing feels more down to earth when it comes to India Hicks and her beautifully bohemian decorating book simply titled Island Style. Here, she shares stories about how, over time,  she decorated her comfortable, casual Bahamian home, with a cacophony of elements meant to inspire more than impress.

Decades ago, a whim led her to the Bahamas, a place she never imagined that she would eventually call home. One thing led to another, years passed years, and India found herself still there. In these pages, she shares the journey that led ultimately to her island house, a sanctuary of memories she shares with her long-time partner, their five children and a menagerie of animals. India intimately discusses at length the art of decorating with sentiment versus cents and the importance of letting your interiors evolve in style as you evolve in life.  If something catches your eye or calls to your heart, take it home, she advises, there will be a place for it somewhere, always.

Thoughtful decorating, India illustrates, comes from storytelling. From gathering and displaying items that are important to you. This leads to personality-filled rooms and fresh perspectives. They become meaningful, nuanced, comfortable, appealing because  the backstory was brought in, in the form of a tale you naturally wanted to tell.  That’s when the magic happens… easily… effortlessly… style and colors and shapes and patterns combine in interesting ways that begin to inspire, remind, emote and invoke a feeling of home.

Mixed in between interior images of her house and collections, she writes beautifully about what it is like to live on an island in the Bahamas, well beyond the honeymoon phase. A period that in her experience lasted about two weeks, before  practicality and reality set-in as far as setting up a real life with real kids, and real pets in a real house.

Island life isn’t for everyone. The point of this book wasn’t to seduce readers with a show-off lifestyle and a get-here-as-fast-as-you-can attitude. The point was to simply demonstrate the impact of personal touch and taste upon a space.  The world is noisy but our interiors don’t have to be. Home is no place for a set of trends established by other people, living other lives in other places. Home is you not them. It speaks for us and of us when we don’t want to speak ourselves. India’s book reminds us of that.

5. 306 Hollywood (2018)

For over 60 years, Annette Ontell lived in this cute, white house at 306 Hollywood Avenue. There, she amassed all the ordinary tidbits that was required of daily life in New Jersey throughout six decades. When she passed away, her grandchildren, brother and sister filmmakers Elan and Jonathon Bogarin felt the weight of her spirit still very much present in all the stuff she left behind. So they set out to tell her story.

Color-coded collections of Annette’s things.

Through a style of art known as knolling, they organize and catalog her collection of ordinary household objects into groupings, to better understand what these objects meant to her life and ultimately what her life meant to them. Combining home movie footage, audio interviews and dynamic cinematography, Annette comes to life before our eyes.

Annette

We get genuine insight into Annette’s passions, pursuits, and philosophies. We fall in love with her affable personality.  We understand how the story of one seemingly ordinary woman actually turns out to be quite extraordinary.  We understand how a home becomes a heart, beating with life and necessity.  A true treasure trove for any vintage lover, this documentary is a colorful, nostalgic and sentimental look at the value of everyday objects, and their purpose over time. Get a glimpse of the magic that is 306 Hollywood by watching the trailer here…

6. Dare to Be Wild (2015)

Based on the true story of Mary Reynolds, the youngest woman ever to compete in the esteemed Chelsea Flower Show, Dare to Be Wild is the cinematic story of the journey that led her from dreamer to doer. From the start of her budding career (no pun intended!) Mary’s clients and employers want her to design gardenscapes within an acceptable box of sameness. But Mary has other ideas, wild ones, that don’t confine nature or ideas into typical proven displays that can be replicated over and over again.  Mary is keen on harnessing a feeling of home and harmony in her garden designs –  a certain sense of wonder and enchantment that she has felt her whole life whenever she steps out into the natural world.

But the Chelsea Flower Show is no easy quest. Paperwork, rules, formalities and finances tie her down at every turn. Her competitors are an intimidating array of past award winners, esteemed gardeners and British royalty. For every step forward, she winds up taking two steps back. Her journey is not easy on so many fronts, you begin to wonder if her plot of ground at the Flower Show is ever going to grow into the vision inside her head. But through all the uncertainty Mary stays true to the sounds that call her home… the wind rustling in the trees, the birds bright with song, the soothing noise of tall grass sweeping against stone.

Beautifully filmed and truly inspiring from the first five minutes, Dare to be Wild is a wonderful example of how the notion of home doesn’t have to be defined by typical, sedentary structures. Home is a feeling as much as it is a place.

Hope these selections have you thinking about your definitions of home and how’d you best describe it. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. And if you wind up reading or watching any of these books or movies, let us know. We’d love to keep these discussion going throughout the year.

Cheers to the word home and to all the places we call our own!

Lovers Who Can’t Quit: In Paris

Was all this so wonderful because it was brief and stolen?

Henry Miller wrote that line in a letter to Anais Nin on August 6th, 1932.  Janice MacLeod wrote that same line in her Paris journal on February 24th just a few years back. Eight decades ago Henry was talking about his love affair with a woman. More recently Janice was talking about her love affair with a city. Both refer to a passion that would and could never be quelled.

Janice!

Two years ago we had the pleasure of interviewing Janice here on the blog about her plans following the publication of her New York Times bestselling book Paris Letters.  When we left off with Janice back in March 2015, she was embarking on a new chapter in her life having just left Paris for Canada with her husband Christophe and a carefree sense of wild adventure in hand.  Calgary was clearly a whole different kettle of fish to tackle than France and Janice just wasn’t quite sure how it was all going to unfold now that she had left her dream city for a new frontier.

Newly arrived… A Paris Year

Fast forward two years and life in Canada for Janice produced a baby (Amelie!) and a new book (A Paris Year!).  Like a lover you can’t quit, Janice’s experiences in France ceased to be forgotten in her new surroundings.  The colors of the city, the  accordion lullabies, the memories of wine, cafes, neighborhood walks, market shopping and the speaking of a language she had almost mastered could never be set aside. Paris came to Canada in Janice’s suitcases, a secret house guest that absolutely refused to go home. Once an admirer always an admirer.

Paris Photography by Janice MacLeod

Lucky for us, Janice’s new book A Paris Year keeps the romance of her gorgeous adventure alive. Laid out like a day planner, A Paris Year tracks Janice’s whereabouts in the City of Light from January 1st to December 30th and includes her pretty paintings and feel-like-you-are-there photographs. Based on her actual journals kept while experiencing the city up-close and personal, Janice packs all sorts of interesting history, fun facts and traditions into the everyday observations that make up the charming lifestyle of French living.

Janice’s lively paintings of all things Parisian.

Part travel guide, part European history lesson, part art crawl and part early language primer, reading A Paris Year is as satisfying as hanging out with your best girl friend all afternoon. It’s interesting and vivacious and inspiring. There are funny moments like November 22nd when Janice truly thought she understood all the offerings on a French menu board only to realize it was written in English. There are sad moments (November 14th) which recognizes the anniversary of the 2015 Paris Attacks. And there are plenty of incredibly beautiful moments (February 2, March 4, May 11th, June 20th, practically the whole month of October, etc etc) that bring the heart of the city home to your doorstep.

There are new characters to meet like Antoine the Poet and Colin the ex-pat, both of whom offer intriguing little side stories that will leave you wondering and wanting.  And of course there all the famous French residents that you associate with the city – F.Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Madame Curie, Vincent Van Gogh, Colette, Edith Piaf, Gaston LeRoux, Sylvia Beach and the ever present star of the show, Ernest Hemingway. He weaves his way in and around Janice’s storytelling as she weaves her way in and around Paris, showing up every few pages in her thoughts and his haunts. The moveable feast still very much moving.

In Janice’s first book Paris Letters, she details step by step how she made the big leap from living an unfulfilling corporate life in California to living a creative life in Paris. That book was the story of an artist’s awakening to her true self. This book, A Paris Year is the full color party she threw to celebrate it. Paris Letters showed us how to make a big change. A Paris Year shows us how to enjoy it.

During some months in A Paris Year, Janice seeks out a specific color to photograph, as an hommage to Nichole Roberston’s book Paris in Color. During the month of May the shade in mind was green.

Janice’s story in both books has an interesting way of sticking around long after you read them. As a result of marinating in the visual artistry of A Paris Year I now walk around my own city looking at the sites before me with new eyes and a running dialogue on how I might best describe a building or a season, a person or a park.

Too pretty to end, the only thing I disliked about this book was that it actually had to end. I was super excited to receive an advance copy in the mail which I read just before leaving for Seattle and then re-read on the flight to Seattle and then once again when I returned back home. I loved it that much… three times over!  Like a daily devotional it offers the unique option of reading a page a day if you are looking for a quick shot of escapism, or you can read it cover to cover, as I did  or you can just pick up and read whatever page you want at random whenever the mood strikes. Janice made it so easy for us to experience her Paris.  Its a day planner and a day dream all wrapped up in one.

If you can’t afford the expense or the time to get to Paris personally this summer, don’t fret.  Spend a few hours with Janice in her book and you’ll feel like you’ve been there yourself. It may be a brief and stolen time, but as Henry Miller implies those are the most wonderful.

You can find Janice’s new book A Paris Year here. Her previous book, Paris Letters here and if you find yourself needing even more joie de vivre, subscribe to her Paris Letters mail service and receive a Parisian note from Janice via the postal service once a month.

The April 2016 edition of Paris Letters

Next time on the blog, we are tackling the city of Seattle and the search for Great-Grandma Mabel’s doughnut shop. Did we find it? Did we find it? Stay tuned!

Bright B(old) Things: 9 Book and Movie Suggestions for an Inspired Year Ahead

 

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“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes.” So said British author G. K. Chesterton.

Even though he spoke these words of wisdom in the first part of the 20th century, don’t you think they are still absolutely appropriate reminders for today? This new year is bursting at the seams with potential and possibility. And it is up to us to make the most of it – to get our dreams and aspirations from the inside to the outside.   In the land of Ms. Jeannie we are starting the year off with a list of fascinating books and movies that will give you those new ears and new eyes, that new backbone and new soul that Chesterton so smartly referred to. Today we are looking at the magical rewards of life from different perspectives as told by people who muddled their way through the long, wayward process of dream-building and came out the other side with wisdom and wonder to share.

Offering equal amounts of inspiration and entertainment, these books and movies were discovered in 2016 but cover a wide time period. On the older side there is a new documentary about a still-living fashion icon born in the 1920’s and an incredibly romantic 2015  movie based on a classic novel written in 1847. On the newer side, we tackle old thoughts on homekeeping in our modern 21st century environment with a book about interior decorating and we spend a year in the life of modern day archaeologist/historians as they recreate authentic farm life in rural Edwardian England.

It’s a fun, eclectic collection but you’ll notice a common thread running between them all – commitment, dedication, confidence. By drawing inspiration from this cast of characters, we can draw parallels to our own lives that will help motivate the dreams that swirl around our heads and hearts and hopefully get us thinking about what steps we can take today that will affect our desires tomorrow.  Let’s look…

In the reading department…

1.No Place Like Home – Brooke Berman (2010)

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Budding playwright Brooke Berman had a simple goal. To find a home that she could call her own. Not one that she purchased. A rental was just fine. Not a house. An apartment would suit. And not even necessarily one that excluded roommates. She just wanted to find a place where she could store her stuff and her self for a permanent amount of time. Longer than thirty days. In 1990’s New York City.

You’d think this would be an easy feat, but for Brooke it took 39 apartments and many years to finally figure out where and how she belonged. For anyone who has ever moved more than a few times in their lives you’ll understand the importance of Brooke’s desire to feel settled. But as much as this memoir is about finding a place of one’s own it is also a step-by-step account of one woman’s journey towards self-realization. Like Janice and her Paris Letters, Brooke tells the real story of what it is like to pursue lofty creative work while fighting through the muck-ridden minutiae of basic daily life. Friendships bloom and wither, romances come and go, jobs begin and end, family members die and tragedy strikes. Despite it all Brooke keeps moving (literally!) towards her dream of a permanent address and a professional career.

Her level of determination is inspiring. Her stay-the-course focus impressive. And if you ever wanted to know what it’s really like to live in New York City, on an artist’s salary, then this is the no-holes barred book for you:)

2. Rethink – Amanda Talbot (2015)

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This book had Ms. Jeannie thinking for weeks and weeks about home design after she finished it. Part history book, part design journal, part holistic living primer, Rethink tackles a lot of issues between it’s pretty covers.  Illustrating how we have become a society of store-ers (owners of so much stuff that storage units are called into action to house the overflow) and accept-ers (of cheaply made, cheaply massed produced short-term furniture), Australian decorator and home style maven Amanda Talbot challenges us to rethink how we use our homes in today’s 21st century world.

Drawing on the nostalgic ideas of home from centuries past when big family, large-scale houses dominated  our landscape, Amanda explains how the history of interior design has affected our mental and physical state for hundreds of years.  Needless to say, times have changed significantly. Big houses are being traded in for micro ones. Traditional function rooms designed for single purposes (dining room, kitchen, bedroom, etc) have now morphed into convertible spaces where we eat, sleep, work and entertain all in the same area. But strangely our thought processes in how we approach these new room layouts has been slow to catch-up.

We require more out of our personal space than ever before in history, yet we fail more often than not to make our rooms fit our lifestyle. Amanda encourages us to break free of the nostalgic past. Beds are now workspaces, mediation zones and offices.   Kitchens are now shipping centers and compost bins and charging stations. Balconies are now vegetable patches, reading rooms and communication hubs. You get the idea!

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In touch with both the practical and spiritual sense of home, Amanda illustrates how certain textures, light sources, and furniture arrangement appeal to our modern minds and moods. She hails the use of soft warm wood and vintage furniture for its steadfast constitution and inherent ability to withstand time – something that is assuring to our psyche in the constantly changing and emotionally abrasive world of the 2010 years.  She proposes new more efficient and intuitive ways to decorate now that we are a world of citizens constantly on the go. She tackles harmony and peacefulness, blended family relationships and plugged in environments, lighting, trash disposal and greenspace with a thoughtfulness that is provoking. By the time you finish the last page, you’ll look at your home environment and understand more about it and yourself. Rethink will make you want to question and refine your style to the infinite degree so that you are paired down and using only what is necessary, what is essential and what is meaningful in order to balance your being.

3. The Year of Reading Dangerously – Andy Miller (2014)

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In The Year of Reading Dangerously, Andy Miller had one goal: to read the books on his bookshelf that he thought were important. The ones that he eluded to loving at cocktail parties (Jane Austen? Yes of course! I love all her books!)  or at dinner tables (Tolstoy”s work is amazing!) but secretly had never actually read before.

Andy’s book collection was quite diverse and spanned a multitude of genres and time periods.  Some were classic literature, some popular fiction, some the mark of an intellectual mind and some just complete whimsies of a fun-time book lover. He narrowed his list down to 50 books to be read in 365 days. And he stuck to it, whether he liked or not.

Throughout his year, he juggles his reading list and his job, alongside his enthusiasm, his family, his friends and his small son. He battles his pre-conceived notions, and his fortitude, his sanity and his propensity to weasel out of the ones he doesn’t like (which are a few!). He evens battles the point of the whole project. Who would care what a middle-aged British man read or not read? The truth is, you will. You’ll fall in love with Andy and his funny, honest, highly relate-able book-loving life. As Andy steamrolls his way through the shelf, you’ll begin to think about your own bookshelf, your own sheepish list of good reads you claim to love but have never cracked open. And he’ll inspire you to get started.

4. Love In The Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1988)

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Like Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast which was set in 1930’s Paris, Love in the Time of Cholera transports you to another era. This time, you are in exotic 19th century Columbia – a landscape filled with colorful birds, fragrant flowers and one of the biggest romantics in all of literature.  The goal of the novel’s flawed hero,  Florentino Ariza is to win the heart of  Fermina Daza, a girl he is instantly drawn to in an unexpected moment.

The story winds through 53 years of these two characters lives despite other lovers, other passions and other pursuits, while also dealing with conflicting temperaments and grim possibilities.  Readers fly high on a captivating whirlwind of passion as Florentino boldly and consistently declares his love for Fermina with no assured possibility that it will ever be equally reciprocated. He can’t help himself. Once he sets eyes on the love of his life (literally!) there is no going back. So he marches forward day after day, year after year, on a road that wraps in circles around Fermina’s landscape. It’s a delirious concept. Delicious in its intensity and honorable in its day after day dedication.  “There is no greater glory than to die for love,” pronounces Florentino early on. With that mindset firmly established, nothing can stop Florentino from fighting for his heart’s desire.

5. Stories I Only Tell My Friends – Rob Lowe (2011)

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If you ever wanted to learn the inside story on how an actor makes it in Hollywood, this is the book. From his childhood in Ohio to his first movie (The Outsiders, 1983) to the established and extensive career he enjoys now in California, Rob Lowe like Brook Berman is the ultimate soldier in the battle field of staying true to your chosen calling. Sure he’s handsome, and he’s talented, and he’s a major A-List actor but it wasn’t always that way and Rob had to learn about his strengths and weaknesses, one micro-experience at a time, just like everybody else.

In Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob candidly talks about the long-road to fulfillment: how he struggled to find friends, find self-worth and find balance in an industry that doesn’t authentically nurture any of these. He talks about his 20+ year marriage, the raising of his two sons and the hopes and dreams he still aspires to in this middle section of his life. And he talks about Hollywood. The interesting stories of celebrity friends, behind-the-scenes movie making and project collaborations on super successful pop-culture productions like The West Wing, Parks and Rec and St. Elmo’s Fire. Alongside all that achievement are stories about embarrassing missteps, awkward associations and risky gambles.  There are setbacks and uncertainties, self-doubt and insecurity, but through it all there is Rob.  For over 40 years holding tight to his acting profession and  thoughtfully digesting all the successes and failures that a creative life consumes. He never gives up on acting. He never gives up on himself.

In the watching department…

6. Edwardian Farm (2010)

Edwardian Farm was a BBC television series which first aired in 2010 in the U.K. It is a fascinating look at the modern viability of living a handmade, handspun life void of 21st century technology as experienced by three history loving professionals – one historian and two archaeologists. For one complete calendar year, this trio set up farm in England’s beautiful Devon countryside and experienced what rural life would have been like in the early 1900’s. Their mission was to answer questions about the efficiencies and possibilities and practicalities of our modern mindsets. Knowing what we know now in 2017, could we successfully return to 1900 and survive?

The trio was tasked with not only daily living activities but also business ventures as well. So moneymaking crops had to be planted, chickens had to be raised and cows had to be milked in order to keep the farm and themselves afloat physically and financially through four seasons.  What was really interesting about this reality experience is that it was thankfully short on relationship drama and heavy on information. You don’t watch people complaining, bickering or tearing each other down. You watch instead about people utilizing their strengths and their ideas to propel the farm and each other forward.

In the 365 days of the project a lot of interesting endeavors were tackled including making their own cheese, chicken houses and lime ash. They plow fields with horses and attempt to spawn fish in a nearby creek. They smoke meat, make their own ice cream and bake traditional food all without the use of electricity. They wash and mend and reuse and recycle and re-purpose so much so that you’ll be inspired by how little equipment one really needs in order to get a good job done. And you’ll be inspired to try out some of their projects like smoking your own meat or planting your own market flower garden. It is fun entertainment that also happens to be highly informative. And like Amanda Talbot’s book, it will make you rethink the purpose of all that stuff in your life. Is it necessary? Is it needed? Is it functional?

7. Iris (2015)

Color, confidence and a little dose of charisma (okay a big dose) are what make 96 year old design maven and style icon, Iris Apfel one of the most shining examples of how to live life on your own terms.  By courageously and unapologetically letting her natural instincts and interests guide her throughout nine decades of her artistic life Iris has followed her heart all around the creative industry.  From fashion publishing to textile design, antique collecting, to clothing scout, interior designer to museum exhibit stylist Iris circumnavigated the globe while exploring everything and anything that appealed to her.

Inspiration came calling in all forms from tiny details like the quality of a certain type of thread, or the line of an unusual sculpture or the buoyancy of a puffed sleeve. Wherever she went, Iris found the unusual, and then packed it up, and shipped it home only for it to trigger a new opportunity later down the road.  An antique turns into an accessories line, a satin fabric spawns a textile company, a thrift store outfit propels a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is how Iris’s life has gone. By sticking to her gut instincts on everything and always saying yes to opportunities that presented themselves Iris was able to enjoy a diverse and fulfilling life that consistently kept her engaged and excited. It is hard to argue with reason when it comes to things you inherently love. Iris never argued in that department. She just listened. And if this documentary teaches you anything, if Iris teaches you anything,  it is just to travel through life as yourself. Just be yourself. Listen to your gut. And above all else, cherish your individuality.

8. Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

Thomas Hardy wrote this book in 1847 which seems incredible now because his main heroine Bathsheba Everdene is as thoroughly modern as any woman today. In the 1960’s Hardy’s book was made into a movie starring Julie Christie but this recent version starring Carey Mulligan is by far better.  If you are unfamiliar with the story-line, Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba –  a headstrong, independent woman who inherits a farm of her own in rural England. Determined to run the farm and her life, in her own way, Bathsheba struggles with the balance between independence and vulnerability.  She doesn’t want to be governed by anyone yet she doesn’t want to be alone either. Love in Bathsheba’s eyes is balanced yet also wild, mutual yet individualistic, and supportive without being smothering.  Three very different  men converge on her life and a relationship with each unfolds. Without giving away the ending if you have not yet seen it, Ms. Jeannie will just say that Bathsheba’s choices throughout her life are as bohemian as any 1920’s flapper or any 1980’s career woman or any 2017 independent spirit. Which makes this 150 year old character quite remarkable. She’ll inspire you to forge your own way, to mold a life dependent on personal viewpoint and to reject the notions of other people’s ideas for your happiness.

9. The Age of Adaline (2015)

Ms.Jeannie was so in love with this movie she watched it twice back to back. Stunning in its cinematography, wardrobe and set design it is also posses interesting questions about mortality, relationships and familiar connections. Adaline has a secret and because of her elusiveness few people know how to understand her which leads to a loneliness that seems inescapable. Again, without giving away too much of the story for those of you who have not yet seen it, you follow Adaline’s life through decades of history and important milestones. Like Iris and Bathsheba she forges her own life, and in doing so discovers later on the impact she had on other people.  It is an interesting viewpoint on how one person can affect many without ever knowing it.

On a technical side, this movie is flawless. The acting is marvelous and the attention to detail incredible.  The camera follows Adaline through all the changing style trends of 20th century America which makes the visual appearance of this film fascinating in a time capsule sort of way. Years of pre-production added an authenticity to the layers of storytelling that added multiple layers of depth to every scene and set.  An added bonus not to be missed is a fascinating step-by-step behind the scenes documentary on how the cast and crew accomplished such visually impactful storytelling.  So this selection is two fold when it comes to inspiration. The script is one magical piece of writing and the mesmerizing production value is another. No bit of scene or set was thrown together, no character half-realized, no string of dialogue awkwardly phrased. All aspects of this movie-making process were thoughtfully executed making the end result seamless in regards to complete storytelling.

As you can see from this list a little inspiration goes a long, long way. In the land of Ms. Jeannie we are challenging ourselves  to find a moment of new inspiration in each and every day. Some days this a tricky feat. Looking for small pockets of wonder requires an open mindset and eyes that are constantly aware of the environment around us.  The fun is in the search for the small details like a falling leaf or a patch of graffiti or an almond crusted cookie.  And it’s in the big obvious things too like fireworks or flower beds or snow fields.  It’s in music we hear, food we eat and conversation we start. Sometimes it is in an interesting article, or a pesky problem and sometimes it is even in the frustrations that fog up up our brains. The trick in this tricky project is to be able to take the time to notice and then process what it is that we are seeing, hearing and thinking.  Life moves fast. In an instant a moment of magic is upon us. Our imaginations quickly carry us away. If it captures our attention long enough a dream or a desire begins to form. Then we have to make choices. Do we sit on that dream or do we we do something with that dream? Ms. Jeannie hopes this batch of books and movies will help you get going, get noticing and ultimately get started down that road to realization.

Cheers and good luck to a new year and to new eyes.  And to new ears and to new feet and to new souls and backbones and all those wonderful new (old) words by G.K. Chesterton!

For more book and movie suggestions see 2015’s best of list here.

 

 

 

The In-Between Places of Life and Book

move1

In the land of Ms. Jeannie the creatures are stirring. All week the boxes have been building higher and higher – propping up all the anticipation and all the possibilities of new horizons. A brand-new adventure is about to take place!

At the end of the week Ms. Jeannie will say goodbye to life in the 1930’s schoolhouse and hello to a new space in a new state.  Where is she headed exactly? Stay tuned to see where the gang winds up…

In the meantime, Ms. Jeannie owes a big BIG thank you to blog reader Elizabeth E. who reminded Ms. Jeannie two whole years ago that there was an absolutely fantastic gem of a book waiting to be read in the MJO bookshelves.

outlander1

Coming across Outlander while packing bookshelves was just about the most perfect escapist read to dive into while tackling all the every day realities of relocation. Like Ms. Jeannie juggling the in-between time of life in Georgia and life in her new town,  Claire, the heroine of Outlander, (a vintage 1990’s fiction novel) finds herself caught up in two worlds  – that of 1940’s England and then mysteriously of 1700’s Scotland.

It is a fantastic fish-out-of-water story, full of history, romance and adventure as Claire struggles to survive two centuries of time travel. It’s also just about the most fantastic book to fall into after endless hours of packing boxes:) Outlander is the first book out of nine in the series, so if you want to spend the the next few months wrapped up in the mystical and turbulent Scottish highlands then you are in for a most eventful summer of reading.

To make things even more exciting,  Outlander was recently made into an award-winning television show as well. Now into its second season with two more seasons in pre-production, Outlander, the show, is beautifully filmed and equally entertaining. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the original trailer from season 1:

 

In the next coming weeks, once Ms. Jeannie is settled, she’ll be sharing more summer reading suggestions from her best of the first half of 2016 list, featuring books, movies and documentaries. So stay tuned on that front as well!

More to come….move to commence…memories to cultivate…

It’s summer 2016 in the land of Ms. Jeannie!

 

Passion Flower: Discovering the 20th Century’s Most Popular Female Writer

As you know from Ms. Jeannie’s previous posts – she’s got gardening on her mind. So she thought this would be an appropriate time to do a little further sleuthing on one of the flower themed items in her Etsy shop…

The 1930’s era women’s fiction book, Passion Flower.

Passion Flower book from msjeannieology

Written by Kathleen Thompson Norris, one of the highest paid literary writers of her time, her books mostly told stories of the women of upper-class society. Passion Flower in keeping with that theme, details the story of an elite women who falls in love with her chauffeur.

Kathleen Norris in 1925

Kathleen was born July 16th, 1880 in San Francisco, married fellow writer Charles Norris (1881-1945) and published over  80 novels in her lifetime. She also wrote four collections of short stories, one play and 10 non-fiction books. Goodness gracious, she was one busy lady!

Author Ann Douglas, in her book Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhatten in  the 1920’s described Kathleen’s work …

“Kathleen Norris was the most interesting novelist of feminine and matriarchal sentimentalist essentialism in the 1910s and 1920s; vastly popular, with a curious literary style that seems to owe a good deal to Henry  James, she developed the themes that would dominate the soaps of early radio, aroused the ire (and perhaps envy) of Dorothy Parker, was adored by Alexander Wollcott (always a fan of the matriarch), and took acre of Elinor Wylie’s stepchildren (they were related by marriage; forgotten today, she is well worth in-depth study. “

In addition to being a writer, she was also a strong feminist, promoter of women’s rights, joined Charles Lindbergh in the 1930’s to oppose US ships carrying supplies to the British, called for capital punishment and campaigned for the outlaw of nuclear rights.

Kathleen Thomson Norris – photo courtesy of Garver Graver

Kathleen spoke sensibly about following dreams and achieving goals. Clearly this philosphy was working for her!

 “Before you begin a thing, remind yourself that difficulties and delays quite impossible to foresee are ahead. If you could see them clearly, naturally you could do a great deal to get rid of them but you can’t. You can only see one thing clearly and that is your goal. Form a mental vision of that and cling to it through thick and thin.” – Kathleen Norris

Charles Gilman Norris – photo courtesy of Garver Graver 

Kathleen’s husband, Charles Norris was a prolific writer as well. Possibly best known for his book, Salt, in which F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed:

“I know Gatsby better than I know my own child.  My first instinct after your letter was to let him go & have Tom Buchanan dominate the book (I suppose he’s the best character I’ve ever done–I think he and the brother in “Salt” & Hurstwood in “Sister Carrie” are the three best characters in American fiction in the last twenty years, perhaps and perhaps not) but Gatsby sticks in my heart.”

Side Note: Ms. Jeannie’s absolute most favorite book in the world is The Great Gatsby, so she is always on the look out for any F. Scott Fitzgerald references!

Kathleen and Charles owned a 200 acre ranch in Santa Clara County, California where, as Kathleen’s novels rose in popularity, they entertained many a celebrity and Hollywood A-lister.   This is a photo of their home, located in Palo Alto.

Kathleen & Charles’ Spanish Colonial style home. Palo Alto, CA.

The house is still there today and  is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can read more about the property here, as well as see more photos and design plans.

In 1930, Passion Flower was made into a movie starring the beautiful Kay Francis, one of the most popular actresses of  Hollywood’s Golden Era.  Interestingly enough, she had something in common with Kathleen.  Kay was  one of the  highest paid actresses of the 1930’s. Her estimated annual salary was $115,000. As a comparison, Bette Davis’ annual salary at the same time, was $8,000.

Kay Francis

Here’s a photo from the movie featuring Kay and her leading man costar Charles Bickford…

By the end of Kathleen’s career, her books had sold over 10 million copies.  She died in San Francisco in 1966. Her collection of works and papers are stored at the Special Collections Departments of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Stanford University.

She was quoted as saying:

“Life is easier than you’d think; all that is necessary is to accept the impossible, do without the indispensable, and bear the intolerable.”

Interested in who the highest paid author is in our 21st century,  Ms Jeannie was surprised (sort of) to learn that it was Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, who in 2010 alone earned $40 million. Her series, comprised of four books, has sold over 100 million copies to date.

Stephenie Meyer

In one of those, if you could have lunch with anybody, living or dead scenarios, Ms. Jeannie thinks it would be interesting to sit down with Kathleen Norris and Stephenie Meyer.

Both women, highly successful in their writing careers, both having the luxury of seeing their own success, and both having the ability to connect with their readers on passionate emotional levels, would provide for some thought provoking conversation.

Kathleen prided herself on diligently focusing on goals to achieve success while Stephenie attributes her success to having the confidence to explore her dream state, which was how the plot for Twilight started.  Ms. Jeannie loves that both women achieved successful writing careers using two totally different motivations.

It is always great to have little reminders of our motivations in life. Ms. Jeannie found these two Kathleen/Stephenie approved ones on Etsy…

The Future Belongs To Our Dreams Art Poster by misterio
Goal Without A Plan Plaque from Crestfield

Ms. Jeannie thought it would be fun to imagine the writing spaces of these two very different women with the almost 100 year gap between them.  Using Etsy, as her design shopping center, Ms. Jeannie put together these two worlds… based on the information she just learned about them…

Kathleen Norris’ 1930’s inspired writing niche…

1937 Royal KHM Typewriter from MidMd
Antique 1920’s Secretary Desk from SecondRevival
1930’s Vintage Box of Gladiator Pen Nibs from kelleystreetvintage
1930’s French Writing Paper from the vintagearcade
Art Deco Brass Lamp from VintageLancaster
Vintage 1920s Blotting Papers from LuncheonetteVintage
Antique Oak Captain’s Chair from dajaxsurbanattic
1930s Dictionary Word Bundles from VintageScraps
The New Woman – 1897 Stereoview Photo from NiepceGallery

Stephenie Meyer’s contemporary Twilight inspired office…

Vinyl Decal Kit for Laptops from SkinKits
Ebony Writing Desk by JiriKalina
Twig Pencils by braggingbags
Woodgrain Writing Set by AshleyPahl
Forest Table Lamp from tansyandco
Journal with Eleanor Roosevelt Quote by watermarkbindery
Computer Keyboard Wrist Cushions by HomeGrownPillows
Mod Shimmer Chair by AryCollection
Wall Decal Twilight Quote by InspirationsbyAmelia
Wolf Dog Photograph by EmeraldTownRaven