What we are reading at our house, part 2: Bryson, Dickens, Fortier, et al

Two books that I recently bought for Amalia’s birthday. A great way to end a busy day is to snuggle up together on the couch and read poetry.

So. A super-quick story before we launch into what the kids and I are reading this month. I started writing this post a couple weeks ago, as many of you probably know, and–as is my wont, alas!–I started rambling on about my friend Chef William, and a comment he had made on a blog post, and subsequently went into that oh-so-familiar to all of us 😉 sledding-in-embarrassing-yellow-snowpants-story and then, boom, baby! I glanced down at the word counter thingamabob that I usually–by and large–ignore, and whoa, Nelly! I was already well over 2,000 words and I hadn’t even begun writing about the books yet!


And the books . . . ? They were–after all!--the point of the post. I had veered so far off my topic this time that I had no time or space left to address it! Bad blogger. Bad, o’erwordy blogger!

So . . . full of shame for my wordiness and inability to edit effectively–I decided to make the post, actually, two posts. Here’s the honest truth, gentle readers, and I know it means that I really stink at acting as my own editor, but this is the process I go through with each of my blog posts.

I write the post. Usually it takes me several early-morning writing sessions, fueled by bulletproof(ish) coffee and homemade toast (well-buttered, because it’s winter and a little extra fat gives us courage). At some point in the editing process, I will look at the word counter, since I know full well my own predilection for writing too many words:“2,306 words. Seems a bit long-winded. I shall cut until I get under 2,000 words. I shall be more succinct! I shall not tire out my readers with superfluous words!”

I dive in. Full of determination! I enjoy myself. I really do enjoy editing. I start to play with colored words and such. Ha! I make myself another cup of coffee. Twenty minutes later, I’ve edited and cut and changed the entire post. I look at the word counter: “2,812 words. Whaa???How on earth did I add 506 more words??

But, oh well. It’s very hard to change a zebra’s stripes. Or a giraffe’s spots. Or an o’erwordy blogger’s lack of editing succinctness.

Speaking of giraffes . . . I have been using a bullet journal. I don’t know if it has made me any more productive, but it’s super-fun to draw in. I love it. It’s just a cheap blank journal that I bought from Wal-Mart, but I could settle down with it and bullet journal my day away! It is especially fun to draw giraffes in it, I think, so far.

I just now decided to write a post about bullet journaling and productivity: yay or nay? Does a bullet journal make you more productive? You’ll have to stay posted for that one. I can’t decide if this journal has helped me be more productive or not. I do spend more time fussing over it than a strictly productive person would, I’m thinking. I have held myself back from putting together a Bullet Journal box, filled with washi tape (It’s new to me. Amalia has some. I want some, too) (It’s Japanese and I swoon over anything Japanese, don’t you?) . . .

See how beautiful and useful this would be for bullet journaling or even just to enhance the human condition? I want some. I want some SO BADLY. 🙂


. . . aaaaand stickers and stamps and inks and a couple of my favorite pens, NEVER MIND my favorite pens in alllll the colors (I couldn’t even think of that!) because then, I’m pretty sure my productivity would plummet. Down to the bottom of the sea.

Anyhoo. What. Were. We. Talking. About. Here. Hmm . . . I have taken a break from writing blog posts for the past few weeks, as I’ve been finishing a chicken-related ebook! YES! *fist pump* Finally! It is now in my designer’s hands, so I’m back at work on my blog for the time being, until he sends me the book back for edits.

At which time, I’ll add about 500 words, you know.

Now . . . to the point of this post! At. Last. To wit: The kids and I all have a number of books on our bedside stands. I usually keep a couple of informative nonfiction books going, but I also keep books that I consider fun reading.

The Market Gardener, by Jean-Martin Fortier


Oh yeah. Awesome book.

Bryan actually bought this book for me a couple of years ago, when I was selling–well, not actually selling but mostly taking my heirloom tomatoes and other specialty veg to a small farmer’s market near our town. Most folks passing by were looking for my mom’s donuts and my artisan breads and Amalia’s mile-high muffins (can you blame them?) so they would generally not give much of a glance at my Tom Thumb lettuces and heirloom tomatoes and baby pak choi that I really wanted to sell. That’s an entire ‘nother story, though.

I read part of this book and then (as is my wont) set it aside. It all seemed really farmy-technical for somebody like me, who gardened grossly out of proportion to our family’s needs, but didn’t consider herself a farmer.

Fast-forward a year or two. Mom, Amalia and I hung up our baker’s aprons and retired from the farmer’s market, for a number of reasons. I kept growing heirloom and artisan veg (notably tomatoes) in ridiculous abundance. Why so much? *blushing* I just liked growing the stuff. The gardening kept (and keeps) me productively occupied, in a venue (that is to say, outdoors) in which I prefer to be.

A new farmer friend, Gene, at that time came to visit and check out my garden (as farmer friends do) and he gasped at the number of heirloom tomatoes I was growing. Being a practical fellow, “What are you going to do with all these cherry tomatoes?” he asked, in wonderment and polite confusion. I think I probably had around thirty-five huge and vigorous cherry tomato plants in my hoop house, and the ground was littered with the beautiful fruit.

I plucked one, gazing at the approximately two kazillion left on the vines, and said weakly “Eat them?”

After Gene got over the shock of my growing all those tomato plants without a plan for what to do with all the fruit, he asked if I wanted to sell a few, and the rest, as they say, est l’histoire. I started that summer selling my extra (oh, and I had a few extra!) heirloom tomatoes and edible flowers and squash and other things, with Gene to upscale restaurants in the city. I was very happy about it all. And I started planning to grow even more the next year. Which is to say, last year.

Then I remembered this book. For somebody who wants to up their garden game, to learn as much as possible about producing a lot of veg in a small amount of space, without wasting time or effort–and then, selling it, if that is your desire!–this book is very, very helpful. But you don’t have to be a professional market gardener to learn a lot from this book.

I attended a workshop a couple of weeks ago, conducted by the author, and that was a thrill! Check out my Instagram account, to see a picture of me being all starstruck with Jean-Martin.

Yeah. We’re on first-names basis. Me and Jean-Martin. Not exactly besties yet . . . but we did exchange business cards and IG accounts, for what it’s worth. I mentored him a tiny bit on growing and selling edible flowers, too. 🙂

A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson

This is a fun book.

I love to laugh. I love any book that makes me laugh. And folks . . . this book makes me laugh.  This author even keeps me awake, even at the end of a long day, and baby, that’s somethin’.

Author Bill Bryson moved back to America after living twenty years in England, and of course decided to hike the 2100 miles of the Appalachian Trail upon his return. He was accompanied by his college buddy Stephen Katz and he made it the entire way, and then he wrote about it. It’s a great, interesting, entertaining story, and you might even find yourself itching to go on your own adventure, after you’ve read it.

Far Afield, Rare Food Encounters from Around the World, by Shane Mitchell

This is a terrifically fascinating book, full of exotic recipes and beautiful photos. It’s a culinary travel book, and if you love to travel, and part of what you love best about traveling (*raising hand*) is sampling the local cuisine, you’ll enjoy this book. I am just getting started on it, but I really have been enjoying it.

It’s a coffee table size and is full of delightful photos to share with the grandkids, too. 🙂

Man of the Family, by Ralph Moody

I’ve read this entire series through with the older kids at least twice. These books, written by Ralph Moody–cowboy, artist, farmer, homesteader–are some of the finest, most educational and entertaining books we have read in our homeschooling years. The entire set  is definitely worth adding to your library, and most definitely reading aloud to the entire family.

These books about a young boy growing up on a Colorado ranch at the turn-of-the century, champion the great American values of  thrift, hard work, independence, and respect. They are a more-grown-up version of the “Little House on the Prairie” series, and are even more (in my opinion) exciting, historical, and fascinating as that series.

“Man of the Family” is the second book in the series, and tells the story of how the Moody family pulled together to survive in turn-of-the century Littleton, Colorado, after their dad and husband died. From using stilts to become the best fruit pickers in town, to outsmarting the manager of the finest hotel in Denver, to trading free coal for a Christmas goose, Moody brings the reader right into this frontier family.

Everyday Battles, by Bob Schultz

If you are concerned about the development of your child’s character, you need to know about Bob Schultz. We have read all of his books more than once, too. His books touched my daughter Bethany’s heart so much, years ago, that she began a writing relationship with the author, until his untimely death brought that to a close.

I worry about our kids and their Godly character (or lack thereof). Bob Schultz writes about themes such as hard work, persistence, listening for God’s voice, and dozens of other challenges that a young boy (or girl) faces in the growing-up years. We keep these thought-provoking books in our constant read-aloud rotation: Boyhood and Beyond, Practical Happiness, Created for Work. They are all excellent, and though they were written specifically for boys, they hold just as many character-building lessons for girls, too, not to mention grown-ups. 🙂

Cooking for Picasso, by Camille Aubray

I got this book from the Blogging for Books website, and it came in a set of CDs, so it has been nice to listen to while I did housewifely things, like laundry or dishes or dusting (just joking about the dusting, ha!!).

This novel—inspired by Pablo Picasso’s actual disappearance from Paris in 1936—follows a young chef who finds her life transformed when the internationally renowned artist arrives in her seaside village in the South of France. Their encounter ties into a suspenseful present-day story involving the young chef’s American granddaughter.

Sounds like fun, eh? Exotic setting, an intriguing artist, oooh lala!

A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket

Sometimes television is a good thing. Not often. We limit, as you know, gentle reader, television-watching at our house. The television, as a matter of fact, is shunned to the rahther cold and drafty basement, so you have to really really want to watch something to go down there.

Well. Netflix recently came out with a film series of the first few volumes of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. It is excellent.

If you’ve read the Lemony Snicket books, I think you’ll love this series. Netflix has hit a home run. If you haven’t read the books, I still think you’ll love it. The author of the books also authored the video series, so they are just as weird, disturbing, and funny as the books. 🙂

Here’s the sequence: Mack read all the Unfortunate Events books a couple of years ago. We watched the series. Mack went back and read all the books again. There ya go. I love it when a movies or television encourage kids to go back and read more, don’t you?

The Book of Wild Pets, by Clifford B. Moore

This book is a treasure-trove, folks. It is out of print, but there are a few used copies on Amazon and other places, too, probably. We bought our copy at our favorite little thrift store for a dollar. It has been Mack’s constant companion ever since.

It’s an encyclopedia of everything you’d ever want to know about wild critters–animals, insects, amphibians, and more–that could be caught and kept as pets. There is thorough instructions for how to build habitats for great wild pets (toads, salamanders, tadpoles) and also warnings against trying to make pets out of wild critters that are better left out in the wild (alligators, snapping turtles).

Do you find yourself resenting the dumbing-down of books in today’s world, as well as the screenification of our culture? Do you ever feel sorry for today’s kids for not knowing the joys of simple rambling and playing outdoors? Do you sometimes wonder how to get your own kids back out into nature, when they may just be out of the habit?

When my sibs and I talk about the childhoods that we had, and then I think about the childhoods of many of the kiddos I know today, I feel quite sad for what today’s kids have lost. In relying on screens for entertainment and/or information, and/or whatever, they have lost valuable lazy time outdoors, time to play, discover, and become aware of what miracles the natural world is full of.

Enter this book (and others like it). When Mack finds a book he loves, he will follow me around and read me passages. Sometimes (don’t tell him!) the passages go in one ear and out the other. But that wasn’t the case with this book. Okay, I do love vintage and old stuff, honestly. And this book is definitely a throw-back to a simpler time, and it is a charming throw-back. This book is also the reason that we have praying mantis egg cases littering the back porch, and a big ole’ bullfrog tadpole in a tank in the sunporch. Not kidding.

Here’s an excerpt:

 “American Toad (Bufo americanus): Whoever has not had a pet toad has missed a most enjoyable and interesting experience. Toads’ actions are surprisingly entertaining, and generally you will find your terrarium toad a creature of excellent judgment. For instance, it will usually move about a squirming worm until it can seize it by the head . . . ”

David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens

Amalia has a big ole’ pile of books with her most of the time, but I’ll just touch on a couple of them. In her British lit course that she is tackling during this, her senior year, she is reading one of my favorite Dickens’ books.

this one!

The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Knitting Patterns,

by Kate Atherley

Amalia struggles with chronic migraines, and when she is having a bad day or week, she has taught herself to knit. But this enterprising young lady hasn’t only sat and knitted during her painful bouts. She also has designed knitting patterns, opened her own Etsy shop, started a wildly-popular Instagram knitting account, designed her own business cards and knitting tags, and much more. All this she did, while gripped in pain.

I am filled with admiration for her industry!

Here is a book that she found recently, that she has been enthralled by. She was writing knitting patterns when she realized that she could use some instruction on how to do it better. Tra-laa. She has been thrilled with what she has learned in this book!

gentle readers, I’ve gone on and on again! I could fuss over this post for a couple more weeks, adding more books and photos, but I think it would be best if I just pushed PUBLISH now.

I’m ready to move on and share some more about what is going on at our house—growing seedlings in the basement, finishing up work on our 15th annual melodrama, teaching Scout how to be a Good Girl and not a Bad Dog: all these things have filled up my days lately.

What about you? What is going on at your house? I’d love to hear some of what is keeping you busy, in the comments below!


14 thoughts on “What we are reading at our house, part 2: Bryson, Dickens, Fortier, et al

  1. Connie Stahl

    I am so excited to find the Ralph Moody books and read them. Our home is an old homestead from the 1880’s here in Castle Rock Colorado and my store is in Littleton. Our house burned down once and was rebuilt in 1904. I stand and gaze down the valley, imagining what the view was like back then before all the lights. I will thoroughly enjoy reading what life was like for these hardy people. I swear we have an Old Timer ghost. I will catch a whiff of cigarette smoke when I’m here alone, hmmmmm, no neighbors close enough. My husband has smelled it as well. But it seems to be friendly.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Connie, what kind of store? It sounds like you live in a beautiful place. We used to vacation in Red Feather Lakes, CO, when I was a kid and still think of that part of the world as being very close to heaven. Please post pictures! If you mean that you’ve never read the Moody books, I envy you! I would totally love to read them all again for the first time!!

  2. Tina

    I will be on the hunt for a copy of The Book of Wild Pets for my 10 year old, it sounds right up her alley. She thinks that Mack is the luckiest kid in the world getting to go out exploring around the farm. She fancies herself a wild child. 🙂
    If you have read Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, you will have a good picture of her dream.
    Thanks for the recommendations, I put a couple on hold at the library. It will be nice to have them when this unseasonably nice weather turns cold again.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Tina, we ought to have an afternoon playdate with your kiddos and mine, once the next couple of weeks of busyness are o’er. I saw a few copies of The Book of Wild Pets on Amazon that weren’t expensive. Just a warning though: you might end up with terrariums full of pond water and tadpoles (no lie, that’s what is on our sunporch) at your house, too.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      See, now that is what happens when I take three weeks to write a post (siigh). I’m not even sure where I started and where I ended up. Chef William made a comment on this post about what was going on at our place: http://vomitingchicken.com/whats-going-place-january-skinny-farm/. The comment was to the effect that now I needed to post pictures of my family and me sitting by the wood stove, reading books–I’m assuming he meant that I needed to show the flipside of all the farm busyness. I thought it was a good idea, and thenceforth wrote two long posts about books. Chef William has a lot of influence over me, i think! 😉

  3. Emily

    Wow, what a line up of great books! My grandsons and I love the Lemony Snickets series!

    Kudos to your daughter in learning to knit and design patterns all during chronic migraines. I admire her!

  4. Chef William Chaney

    Looks like another stroll through Amazon for me. I think I might really like Far Afield, Rare Food Encounters from Around the World, by Shane Mitchell but alas if it is a coffee table book I will need to wait until I get back to the states which won’t be any time soon. And I will be interested in your answer to Saskia. I am a loose leaf unbound book, and a major distraction in some people’s lives, but unless you know me, most people would never guess. (wow, there’s my new bio). It was a visit 4 years in the making and lasted less that 24 hours but a visit that my wife enjoy reliving often.

  5. Chef William Chaney

    of course, that should say my wife and I enjoy reliving the visit often. It’s your turn to visit us here in Mexico but I must warn you that the rainy season starts in June and last until mid-Oct. so If you don’t make it before then, you will be better to put it off until at least the fall.

  6. Patti

    I started Bill Bryson’s book years ago , but never finished. I’ll have to revisit it. I just finished reading Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! and will be starting My Antonia. We moved to Florida in November and I have been busy starting another new garden and learning to garden in zone 9. Thank you for all the book recommendations.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Willa Cather is one of my favorite writers, of course, Patti! I grew up not far from where she lived, in Red Cloud, NE. My Antonia is my favorite of all her books. You moved to Florida from where? Zone 9! My goodness, that would be quite the learning curve for me.

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