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A few great books I’ve read recently. What are you reading right now?

Ms. Marvel – Marvel Comic Series
In November, 2015 Marvel introduced Kamala Khan – the first Muslim superheroine and Avenger’s newest butt-kicking team member. Or, reintroduced, as she had appeared in several comics where readers were able to first get a glimpse of her powers. She is fantastic!!! Here’s her Marvel wiki bio

The Best American Short Stories 2013 ed by Elizabeth Strout
The stand outs – “Malaria” by Michael Byers (from Bellevue Literary Review) and”The Semplica-Girl Diaries” by George Saunders (from The New Yorker). Available from Portland Public Library.

Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel by Gaile Parkin
From the publisher Penguin Random House: The novel introduces us to Angel Tungaraza: mother, cake baker, pillar of her community, keeper of secrets big and small. Angel’s kitchen is an oasis in the heart of Rwanda, where visitors stop to order cakes but end up sharing their stories, transforming their lives, leaving with new hope. It is delightful and smart!! Published in 2010, available from Portland Public Library.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
A fantasy novel with dragons and Arthurian knights set in the early part of the Middle Ages by the author of Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day. Ishiguro’s newest book brings an escape from the real world and delivers a creative story.

The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan (February 14, 2017)
From the publisher Penguin Random House: As England becomes enmeshed in the early days of World War II and the men are away fighting, the women of Chilbury village forge an uncommon bond. They defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to close the choir and instead “carry on singing,” resurrecting themselves as the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. We come to know the home-front struggles of five unforgettable choir members: a timid widow devastated when her only son goes to fight; the older daughter of a local scion drawn to a mysterious artist; her younger sister pining over an impossible crush; a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia hiding a family secret; and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond – **Paperback release February 2017
One of The New York Times top ten books of 2016.
Extraordinary, thought-provoking.
For one year, Matthew Desmond, a professor of social sciences at Harvard University, lived in two of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods to tell the story of eight families who struggle to find and maintain affordable housing.
America’s housing crisis looks something like this: Unable to afford soaring rents, millions of people are evicted every year. In Milwaukee, a city of roughly 105,000 renter households, roughly 16,000 adults and children are evicted in an average year. This is equivalent to 16 eviction cases a day.
The psychological impact eviction has on these families’ lives cannot be underestimated. Their personal things piled on the curb or trucked off to a storage facility where there is a chance it will be auctioned off.
Perhaps it is Desmond’s personal background – his parents lost their home in foreclosure – or his commitment to tell the truth – he avoids judgment, but offers empathy.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Published in 1963, there is no better piece of writing to examine race in America. At that time and from what I have read – now.
Baldwin was a legendary essayist, novelist, and social critic from Harlem, New York.

The Fire This Time – an anthology of essays about race edited by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward
I most enjoyed the essays “The Weight” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, “Lonely in America” by Wendy S. Walters, “Da Art of Storytellin’ (a Prequel) by Kiese Laymon, and “Black and Blue” by Garnette Cadogan.
From the publisher Simon and Schuster: The Fire This Time is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future. Of the eighteen pieces, ten were written specifically for this volume.
In the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essay was published, entire generations have dared everything and made significant progress. But the idea that we are living in the post-Civil Rights era, that we are a “post-racial” society is an inaccurate and harmful reflection of a truth the country must confront.

Homesick for Another World: Stories by Ottessa Moshfegh (January 2017)
Dear reader you are not going to like the people Ottessa presents, or their world, but you will not be able to turn away either. Rather, you will feel impatient wanting to know more and with the time you spend upon finishing the book thinking about these pitiful souls. Do not be deceived, once you begin one of Ottessa’s stories it is too late for retreat. And you will not be released upon reading the last word.
*My friend B, also an avid reader, who encouraged me to read Eileen – also written by Moshfegh and my favorite read of 2016 – had this to say: Moshfegh is very skilled at creating these miserable characters that become endearing in ways, or at least interesting and appealing enough to devote time with (Eileen so far has been the best). Of the characters in Homesick for Another World–I too kind of hate them, or pity them, but need to know what happens.

A treasure!!! – One short story from 2016 edition of The O.Henry Prize Stories – “Slumming” by Otessa Moshfegh from The Paris Review

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Finally read it this coming-of-age tale when I saw her bio A House of My Own on the shelf. Haven’t read the bio yet, but grateful to have read this impressive novel.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (May 2017) LOVED!!!
Paula Hawkins’ second novel is even better than Girl on a Train. It is a sophisticated story of such imagination handled in such a thoughtful way that you cheer for certain characters, grieve for them, and urgently want to know who killed who and who could be next.
I crawled inside and didn’t want to come out. It thrust itself into my life. Sitting by the fire in my cozy living room I imagined walking the mossy path by the river up to the old cabin with these secretive emotional – some hateful – characters and was so happy. A must read.

The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke
I began reading Burke after catching this article in my favorite periodical – Garden and Gun Magazine. Now I’ve got his books lined up on my shelf and am giddy exploring his stories. He just nails it all – the characters, the setting, the stories. Epic reads!!!

Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash
A beautiful book which explores the multifaceted experience of being Muslim today. This is an example of the cultural power of literature. Let this intelligent compassionate book inform you!!!

Little Deaths by Emma Flint (January 2017)
Flint pulls the reader into the finely observed working-class neighborhood of Queens, New York, in the 1960s. A work of fiction closely inspired by the case of Alice Crimmins, a beautiful sexual woman living who stood trial as much for the crimes she was accused of as for living an unconventional life.
I can’t wait for Flint’s sophomore novel – “I think everything that I write is going to be based on real crimes,” she says. Her next book is set in 1970s London Soho, near where she lives. Cannot wait!!

The Little French Bistro by Nina George (June 13 2017)
A truly delightful tale of second chances. THE feel good book of the year.

Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker
Soulful. This book embraces you. Alice Walker oxoxoxo for all your words!!!

The One Inside by Sam Shepard (February 2017)
It’s him, it’s not him. Could be about Sam Peckinpah as much as Shepard.

Paris for One by JoJo Moyes
Accurate – “An old-fashioned, feel-good love story. . . It’s as if Moyes has booked a vacation and is taking us along. To Paris. Amour!” –USA Today

Prince Charles by Sally Bedell Smith (April 4, 2017)
A fan of “The Crown”? You might just really enjoy this. From the publisher Penguin Random House: This vivid, eye-opening biography—the product of four years of research and hundreds of interviews with palace officials, former girlfriends, spiritual gurus, and more, some speaking on the record for the first time—is the first authoritative treatment of Charles’s life that sheds light on the death of Diana, his marriage to Camilla, and his preparations to take the throne one day. It is insightful and even-keeled. I felt I understood Prince Charles by the end, but did not like him or dislike him anymore than before.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2017)
For those who want to better appreciate how refugees try to build new lives for themselves and their families.
First short story collection by the Vietnamese-American writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer (2015). Stories vary sharply from one to the next. Most are set amid the Vietnamese exile communities of California.
Nguyen himself arrived in the US in 1975, living in a camp for Vietnamese refugees.

Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin
The book covers Martin’s life, as well as the aftermath of the deadly shooting and how it sparked protests across the nation. **Harvey Weinstein and Jay Z JUST bought the rights and yes they are looking at a series and film. Really happy for Martin’s parents. They didn’t get justice in the courtroom, maybe they will get more closure now.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Published in 1968, this is Didion’s first work of non-fiction and one of her greatest. A collection of essays mostly set in California in the 1960s. Didion is neither shy, nor does she pass judgment. She tells a good story with the skill of a high-wire artist. Subjects range from a murder in Redlands to Joan Baez and Howard Hughes.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
The author is a Baptist minister and professor of sociology at Georgetown University. The book calls white people out and asks them to look at how much they have benefitted from black Americans while they suffer. I found many of Dyson’s points extremely valuable, but ultimately put the book down when it got mired in all his love for celebrities. Definitely worth a read.

Hive Inspection and Split Hive


J in the Sebago Lake Apiaries bee yard.


Queen cups with no royal jelly before we destroyed them (to prevent swarming).


Smoking…. and another shot Sebago Lake Apiaries.


If you look closely in the center of the pic – on the frame – you can see where the bees propolized (used a resinous substance obtained from plants to cover up) what likely was a sick bee. Sad, but a reality – and not so sad if you think it means the colony is healthy and wants to keep their hive clean.

Special Surfer Nights Announced Need Volunteers

Ethan LaCourse

The third Tuesday of the summer months, Aquaholics (a terrific surf/stand up paddle shop) in Kennebunk, Maine holds a special surfer night for children with Autism, Aspergers, Down syndrome ….

This year’s dates are June 21st, July 19th and August 16th.  Time to arrive TBD depending on position, but generally speaking I am on the beach from 5 – 7ish.

Volunteer needs include:
Individuals with surfing experience to help special surfers in the water.
Individuals with little to no surfing experience to help run interference and redirect special surfers in the water as they approach shore.
Individuals to help check in special surfers and direct them on the beach.

Interested? Please contact:
Nanci Boutet
Aquaholics Special Surfers
Special Surfers

Sebago Lake Apiaries – Spring Hive Inspections

Another season of beekeeping…I became a beekeeper in May 2012. Check out these two cute hives I started with – how tiny they begin! Like an accordion, my apiary has expanded and collapsed. I have grown from two to four hives and lost four along the way – one to mites, one to starvation (weather), one to beekeeper error, and one I inherited was already so stressed out there was minimal chance of survival when I took care of it. I have tried keeping hives in town, but that didn’t work out well for me or the bees. This season all the hives are at my home and with any luck from nature in a couple months I will have six healthy hives – having split two to make more.


In early April.


J, my bee mentor and friend, a master beekeeper (think Yoda of bee knight)

mouse nest

Three mice outsmarted a mouse guard that had worked fine the past two winters and created one nest each in a hive. Thankfully, the hive survived albeit a bit cramped. Err mice. With J’s direction boxes were moved around to give each hive more room (mice or no mice). And I’ll be heading to The Honey Exchange in the fall for more sound mouse guards!

red boots


In a couple weeks I will need to check for queen cells (sure sign about to swarm). Essentially, that involves me lifting up each box of each hive and checking for these peanut looking formations that hang from the bottom – if they have royal jelly in them or are closed I know to prepare for a splitting of the hive soon. *No harm is done to the hive (if done correctly) and this produces two hives. In my case I don’t want an apiary larger than six hives so I will give J extra queens.

For next month or so going to feed each hive 1:1 sugar/water syrup to help them along till there are more sources of pollen.

Next update probably in six weeks. ox

Ray Lum and Oral Traditions in the American South


William Ferris is an American author and one of the most important historians of Southern culture, with an emphasis on African-American music and folklore. He co-founded the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, Tennessee, and served as the founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

In the early 1970s he began making documentary films in the Mississippi Delta. In 1972 he made this film about Ray Lum, the mule trader and two decades later published the book You Live and Learn. Then You Die and Forget It All, later retitled Ray Lum’s Tales of Horses, Mules and Men.

I saw the film last summer while taking an online course taught  by Mr. Ferris on the American South, and recently read the book.

I have long known of the importance of storytelling as part of the culture of the American South – from the way my father loved to tell stories and the way parties during childhood summers in Magnolia, Arkansas would dissolve into evenings where a handful of folks would tell stories late into the night. However, William Ferris best encapsulates the importance of this culture in the South: “Stories are our oldest way of communicating knowledge, of passing on traditions, and Southerners have a gift for that. And when you ask a Southerner to answer a question, they will tell a story,” he said.

Ray Lum was a mule trader, who according to Mr. Ferris, was a man born and bred to the practice of the country monologue. “A one-of-a-kind figure who seems to have stepped full-blooded from the pages of Mark Twain,” he wrote of Mr. Lum.

Ray Lum was born and lived within an hour’s drive from Mr. Ferris’s childhood home near Vicksburg, Mississippi. He traded mules and horses with three generations of Mr. Ferris’s family.

In the pre-industrial world of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s horses and mules were the primary mode of transportation for work and recreation – especially in the rural South. A heavy-set man who stood six feet tall and is described as having been gracious and articulate, Mr. Lum brought to life the worlds readers discover in the pages of William Faulkner’s novels. As anyone who has read those great books knows, that means a healthy dose of both beauty and darkness.

Ray Lum was born in a log cabin on June 25, 1891 in Rocky Springs, Mississippi. One of nine children, his grandparents served as foster parents. The town’s population numbered around seventy-five. Eighteen years prior to Lum’s birth, General Ulysses S. Grant and his Union troops passed through the community during their march toward Vicksburg. Today, little remains of the town.

As a child, Lum would hitch a horse to the family’s buggy and take his grandmother’s homemade butter to a nearby town – where it was sold for twelve and a half cents in trade. This and a few early horse trades naturally lead him to his path as one of the south’s greatest traders. By 1912, Lum owned five stables that housed hundreds of mules and horses.

His stories tell of gypsies, whiskey runners, mangy dogs, whores hanging about, outlaws like Frank James and Pretty Boy Floyd, racial violence, and the lives of families during the Great Depression.

While many of his stories are fascinating, most are sad truths of the times – in particular the animal abuse. I mentioned one story to my friend and horseback riding instructor C and she said that kind of abuse still happens, but at least less so now because people are aware it is not correct. In my humble opinion, Mr. Lum was a truly great storyteller and trader, but quite the lousiest of trainers. For all my admiration for Mr. Ferris I am still struggling a little with why he did not admonish him in the littlest bit, but then he said himself that as a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s he found beauty and darkness in Mr. Lum’s southern culture.

Off to the Side

In his brilliant memoir Off to the Side, author Jim Harrison writes with the diversion of television people aspire to the speed of the passing images on screen and develop impatience and boredom with anything less. He also writes “man has an inexhaustible ability to beshit his environment, with politicians well in the lead.” (note Flint, Michigan)

A friend recently called upon me to go to the mall with her to purchase a television. That digressed (progressed) to just looking at them and in the end we went not at all. I am not an advocate for television considering the emphasis on reality television and commercialism. There is a flimsy barrier between news and entertainment if one at all. I would rather read, write, exercise, hang out with friends, and watch the birds and animals on my land. **Note, I own a television for football season otherwise it is disconnected.

As a result of television and the Internet and all our electronic gadgets we are quite an unreasonable people. The dramatic way in which we embrace the times we live in – the incessant need for more for me for I. The indecent marketing of our values, the tearing down of moral behavior, the selling out of our culture and the dehumanization of society. I am coming to loathe social media – the too much too quick take. The me me me of it.

In an attempt to escape “real life” some of us escape to a rural life. Four years into my stay in rural(ish) Maine I am confronted with threats of pollution and feel an increasing sense of claustrophobia.

Pickup trucks speed down the two-lane road with such force it seems they are flying from a Nascar pit station onto the straightaway. Entitled persons throw their empty fast food containers on the front of lawns and I feel certain try to edge other drivers off the road. Who are these wretched people and where did they come from – who raised them – who didn’t.

I was in a supermarket checkout line last night behind a woman who – no judging …but – was overweight with bad skin wearing too large sweatpants – listening to her tell the bag girl how she wanted to kill herself or her kid because the kid was with her all the time and this by the way was because she pulled her out of kindergarten because she didn’t think she was getting anything out of it. *Note, her storytelling was interrupted briefly by her running after her screaming child at the front of the store. Her grocery items included several bottles of alcohol – rung up separately than the other items, which may or may not have been paid with food stamps. Once gone there was a collective relief felt between myself, the checkout man, and the bagger – the latter of whom stated her child (note, this is a young mother) is doing well in the same program and stated matter of factly the woman who had just left (she knew her somewhat) just didn’t want to take her kid to school. I asked how this is legal. No answer. I also worried and still am about the child abuse in that household.

Here’s the thing – the woman with the poor health and questionable parenting approach – she represents a too large part of society than we are willing most of us middle or upper middle class individuals to admit. She exists because she can, because there are cracks a mile or more wide in systems set up to try and prevent just this – whatever this is – and here’s the thing – she may or may not even watch television. No diversion needed. She is part of a society so far removed from one I understand or am grasping with all its changes to understand – that she may as well be a member of some indigenous tribe I read about in all those stacks of books on my shelves and tables.

And there it is or part of it. I read, always have. I choose books over radio (well, Spotify now or podcasts except in the car) and often over television (just not during the football season). Maybe she wasn’t read to as a child maybe she has never read a book maybe she cannot read. Seriously, real problems.

We need to leave the me, myself, and I era behind us. We have a heck of a lot of work to do to improve our communities and our planet. We need to believe a better experience is possible for all of us.

As for me, when I look out my window I see a large family of wild turkeys enjoying the worms and bugs brought up from the rain and that’s far more entertaining than anything that is likely on television right now.


American South


Far too frequently I am reminded of the negative stereotypes people have about the American South. That everyone is ignorant, inbred, racist, overweight, and a right-wing conservative (note while we can sadly claim Rush Limbaugh who embodies most of the above mentioned stereotypes, Dick Cheney is from Nebraska and let’s not forget Sarah Palin’s base is Alaska). People I know, educated well-traveled individuals, have told me they are scared of traveling in the south – this is the American South folks not Honduras. They have not been below the Mason-Dixon line and can no more understand why I am proud of my Arkansan heritage than why I travel through the south every few years.  Look, I won’t lie even I have gotten the heebie jeebies driving through Mississippi on my own – there is just too much history in the air there sometimes and well the last time it didn’t help I was chasing to get to a hotel before some unfriendly (is there any other kind) line of tornadoes blitzed through (I made it to a gas station a couple hours from my hotel).

To help educate those folks I love dearly and all the strangers out there with the same misconceptions, I have created the following list of people/places/things I think of when it comes to the American South. The good, bad, ugly, delicious, beautiful, fun…. And yes there will be a few more American South posts in the near future. ox


Sweet iced tea, cornbread, fried chicken, collard greens, pecan pie, Atticus Finch, Friday Night Lights, community, Mardi Gras, churches, gun shows, college football, Coca Cola, Huck Finn, hobo camps, Angola State Prison, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, tobacco barns, Southern belles, Buck Owens, Rosa Parks, Arkansas, Texas, honky tonks, Lexington KY horse country, preserved antebellum plantation mansions = museums/wedding venues, spiral bound Junior League cookbooks, Y’all, Deliverance, blues and rock and country, Edna Lewis, The Help, confederate war memorials and civil rights museums, South Carolina, Georgia, kindness, discrimination, elegant Victorians and Greek Revivals, John Grisham, horse racing, Driving Miss Daisy, Robert Penn Warren, Virginia, Outer Banks, Nat Turner, Fannie Flagg, biscuits, shrimp and grits, antiquing, Elvis Presley, William Faulkner, graveyards, abolitionists, baptists, Andy Griffith, gardens, farms, slavery, Selma, cotton-growing and manufacturing, moonshine, Blue Ridge Parkway, Democrats and Republicans, Hot Springs National Park, Cajun and Creole cuisine, Ku Klux Klan, lynchings, Southern Poverty Law Center, justice, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Paul William “Bear” Bryant, Moses Grandy, Zelda Fitzgerald, Monticello, High Museum of Art, Georgia peaches, porches and patios, Savannah and Charleston, University of Virginia, Duke, soul, rocking chairs, Sookie Steakhouse, cozy B&Bs and luxury hotels, NASCAR, Johnson Space Center, quilts of Gee’s Bend, Florida, French Quarter NOLA, Southern Foodways Alliance, respect, Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (loyal to my Arkansan roots), Bryant-Denny Stadium, Rick Bragg, Morgan Freeman, Muscle Shoals, Grand Old Opry, stitching, master distillers, The Blind Side, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Jackie Robinson, Medgar Evers, Congressman John Lewis, Gone With the Wind, shotgun houses, Boeing and Lockheed and Delta, patriotism, craftsmen, tradition, and Pulled Pork BBQ.



Parisian Style and Decluttering


Before we get to how to accomplish Parisian style.  Let’s talk about expectations/stereotypes and decluttering. These will be important in achieving some level of Frenchness without losing your cool or too much money.

Dame Vivienne Westwood once said “Buy less, choose well, make it last.” Smart advice.

Here’s my take on clothes/accessory shopping…. There are real people and the people in magazines. There is real life and the lives of the elite (for the purposes of this post let’s say the top echelon of fashion editors, celebrities, people with a whole lotta cash). People in magazines can do without things real people need. People in magazines can wear Gucci, Balmain, Isabel Marant… *There are also credit cards, which in my humble opinion are never a good idea unless you have 1) the money in the bank 2) someone who is willing to pay those bills for you who has money in the bank.

Decluttering – There is that book all my friends have talked about at some point or another during the past few months – the one on using Feng Shui to clear your clutter – Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. I semi-agree with her regarding this quote “Holding onto old books doesn’t allow you to create space for new ideas and ways of thinking to come into your life.” Just try and take away my wall of cookbooks (many of which I don’t cook from anymore, but just love the same).  On the other hand, this morning, I lugged a big bag of books I am donating to the public library. Even with the room I just don’t care about those books.

Klingman’s idea is by decluttering you will simplify and thus open up your life and allow those dreams stocked away in a box behind the cookware you don’t use to become reality and allow newness in your life. Space Clearing is what she calls it.

Well, anyone who has been to my home knows I don’t have much clutter. Something about a childhood filled with it = no thanks. Friends describe my home as being curated. It is, but believe me it’s also quite livable. The one part of my home friends don’t often see is where I keep my clothes and accessories. It’s a bit of a disaster really. Tops and bottoms jammed into dressers and hung haphazardly in a too small closet. I end up wearing the same stuff over and over, because I am too lazy/busy to dig. If I don’t see something how can I be excited about it.

I am far from the only one – according to this WSJ article – Only about 20% of clothes in the average person’s closet are worn on a regular basis, says Ginny Snook Scott, chief design officer of California Closets, the designer of customized closets and storage spaces.

OK – Parisian style.

After reading My Paris Dream by Karen Betts (NYT review here) I began missing Paris. Maybe it’s all the gray here or that I don’t have an out of state trip lined up till summer, or out of the country till 2017, but I was really missing it and then – and this also might have been all the coffee I was drinking while finishing said book (which was done within 24 hours of opening it), but I began thinking about my wardrobe. How to dress like a Parisian.  The book wasn’t even that great, but it was all about fashion – except towards the end where she finally bared her soul (and that part was well-written).

How do French women achieve their beautiful looks effortless style? Based on my time in Paris and having read several books on Parisian chic I would say in no particular order it’s because 1) they know who they are = they own what looks great on them and they carry themselves confidently (and what is sexier than confidence?!)  2) they live in Paris where the best stores are thus access to the best classic and trendiest pieces 3) they eat real food and don’t snack and walk everywhere and don’t overdo it = great figures and when you have a great figure generally speaking the clothes look better. *On this last remark I am not advocating for skinny, but rather healthy.


What’s in their closet?
Jeans – highwaisted, black, skinny, standard straight-leg, white
Black blazer!
Ballet flats – if you can afford Repetto great, if not then whatever is made well and comfortable.
Scarves – try secondhand shops, buy them when you travel (what better souvenir). You do not need a Hermes scarf!! If you can afford one great, they sure are beautiful! Thick scarves too – made with big yummy wool yarn. My godmother gave me a black and white and gray wrap from H&M. I don’t shop there, but I wear it so much. Did I mention she is French!?! The other morning I wore it to a meeting and felt so chic.
White shirt
Long trench – tan
Oversized sweater – maybe it slips off your shoulder, maybe it is black or maybe a mossy green
Navy v-neck sweater
Striped longsleeve t-shirt
Nice t-shirts (I live in James Perse). Nice ones range from $ Uniqlo and J Crew to $$$ Anthony Thomas Melillo and Alexander Wang! White, gray
Tanktops (see brands above) – white, gray, black, navy
Leather jacket – black (I have a tan one too I wear as much as the black ones) – **to me this is an item you take time to purchase. Save for and when you buy it is something you truly treasure. If you are going to spend money do it on the leather jacket and ballet flats.
Open-toed sandals
Boots (magazines would say “riding boots” I would say what makes sense w/ your life – for me it’s big old green waterproof warm Mudruckers)
Black heels (another investment item – or cheap ones and a heck of a lot of bandaids)
Converse sneakers – I have a pink pair I never wear, and I think therein lies the problem. I should have invested in a gray pair. White seems totally impractical to me, but if you live in a magazine go ahead.
Black mini skirt – I wore one throughout my 20s. My incredibly chic friend C has a gorgeous one. I suppose it’s worth giving this item another thought.
Black clothes!

Accessories – have fun, have some gold, diamond studs, costume jewelry, pieces you picked up on a trip – but under NO circumstances when it comes to what you carry should it be fake. Fake is WRONG and everyone will know it’s fake – believe me.

And lingerie and fun socks (when only you will see them) and black tights.

Books on the subject of French style (I **starred my favorites):

**Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Olivier

**How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are by Caroline de Maigret, Audrey Diwan, Ann Berest and Sophie Mas

Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange

Paris Street Style by Isabelle Thomas & Frederique Veysset

Preston Davis on Why Less is More – article/blog post link here

And use Pinterest – my fashion icon is Emmanuelle Alt. She is the essence of French chic to me. Maybe it’s because she always wears jeans and I live in mine. ox

Get Lost: Nature Nurtures Us


When I was a kid, my dad and I took trips to several national parks: Yellowstone (Wyoming), Arches (Utah), Zion and Bryce Canyon (Utah), and Rocky Mountain (Colorado). We stayed in rustic lodges, rode a mule or two, saw a lot of small mammals and a few snakes (I clearly remember one large rattler) – no grizzly bears – and ate our fair share of hamburgers and granola bars.

I finally visited the Grand Canyon (Arizona) with a friend the summer I moved from California to Maine (at that time I did not realize I was moving to Maine), and have spent enough time in Acadia to know it’s one of my favorite places.

“National parks are the best idea we ever had,” wrote American novelist and environmentalist Wallace Stegner. “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

I could not agree more. So too do the folks at National Geographic magazine. They must, they are dedicating a number of issues to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. In the kick-off issue, there is an article about how when we get closer to nature – be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree – we do our overstressed brains a favor. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, specializes in attention and he believes when “we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, bur our mental performance improves too.”

Maybe, the article suggests, the large-scale public health problems e.g. obesity, depression, and pervasive nearsightedness, are because folks are spending way too much time indoors. Let’s be honest here – we were not meant to be indoors as much as we are and to live in places with no trees or grass as part of the view.

South Korea gets it – they are planning 335 healing forests manned by “health rangers” – imagine hiking, drinking elm bark tea, rubbing lavender massage oil onto someone else’s forearms…Embracing nature. A hundred-million-dollar healing complex is under construction next to one healing park and then there’s the government-run “happy train” that takes kids who have been bullied into the woods for two days of camping. WOW!

An ancient Korean proverb “Shin to bulk ee” – “Body and soil are one.”

Environmental psychologist Stephen Kaplan and his colleagues at the University of Michigan have found a 50-minute walk in an arboretum improves attention skills and short-term memory. A street walk does not.

What do you say to getting outdoors every day – ok once a week – walking in the woods or a large park and taking in the naturalness of it all.  No cell phone needed.

I can only imagine how much clearer, happier, and relaxed I will be after several days in Grand Teton National Park.  And yet, I have access to the outdoors every day – the life I have created for myself is one with minimal light pollution at night = amazing star gazing, and access to a field where I can wander and feel nature whenever I like. During the summer I go barefoot in the garden, dirt under my nails and am so happy.

The power of the outdoors.


Top: Central Park, NYC in November. My backyard winter 2015.

Women Need to Own It


2014 0412 Athleta Radical Stride Capri Coral Sizzle_Flint Grey Stock

HELLO 2016!!!!!!

A doable New Year’s pledge. Do you down-talk yourself?  Notice if you do and try to stop yourself from doing it again.

McKenzie Long of Cardinal Innovative wrote the following:

“Yeah, I’d love to climb with you, but I hope you don’t mind rope-gunning because I haven’t climbed in forever.”
“I can come, as long as you don’t mind that I’m slow.”
“I’m excited for tomorrow, but I know it will crush me.”
These are generalized statements, but they could have been said by any number of women I have met and recreated with over the years, myself included. Statements like these are a common way for a woman to accept an invitation to go climbing or hiking or skiing but also allow for herself to have an excuse for not performing well.
I live in a mountain town, where the majority of the population is athletic, physically fit, and adventurous. Everyone lives here for a reason, and for most that reason is to play in the mountains. Statistically, I would be willing to bet that the percentage of of strong, bad-ass athletes here is much higher than in a typical town of the same size. Within this demographic are numerous independent, skilled, strong, and inspiring women who I have the great pleasure of knowing and counting as friends. But among this group of women I have noticed a phenomenon that I find increasingly disturbing: the feminine down-talk.
Whenever the discussion turns to upcoming plans or invitations to do something, many women accept the invitation but immediately discount themselves and their abilities. It has reached the point where this is the most acceptable thing to say when someone invites you for a day in the mountains. However, the more women down-talk themselves, the more other women feel the need to also down-talk themselves. It is like a battle of who can say they are the worst.
I don’t notice this happening as often with men. (If anything, the opposite tends to be true.) Even if, as a listener, I know that the woman talking is neither weak nor slow, if she constantly repeats this to me, I will start to believe it. And if I start to think that about her, how many other people who hear her say these things will also make those judgments of her? Even worse, will she start to believe this of herself? And how many times have I done this to myself? In an effort to be modest, I have instead portrayed myself as incapable when in fact I am working very hard to be anything but.
I think women need to own it. We need to take full ownership of the things that we are good at, the things we work for, and the skills we have spent years building. There should be no more cutting ourselves down. It is uncomfortable to the person you down-talk yourself to, it damages your own self-confidence, and it makes women as a whole appear hesitant and powerless, which is certainly not the case.
There is a difference between being honest about your abilities and talking yourself down. I’m not suggesting that women should make ambitious plans where the objective is way over their heads, I’m simply asking them to own up to the talents and abilities that they do have and to to be proud of them. I don’t think this requires boasting either. A woman can accept an invitation from a friend to go out for a day of physical activity without discussing how bad they are at that sport, and that is perfectly acceptable.
I recently met a woman who is impressive in many ways: she is a ripping big mountain skier, one of few female ski guides where she lives, funny, friendly, the whole bit. But she impressed me even more when she told me that she was working on responding to compliments with “Thank you, it’s true” rather than brushing them off and discounting what someone has said about her, which is something many women have a habit of doing. As a group, if more women accepted compliments like this and less women felt the need to down-talk themselves, it would in-turn bring up everyone’s morale.
This isn’t just an issue amongst outdoor athletes, it also happens in the workplace. The Atlantic recently published an article on their website about how women are less likely to take credit for their own work. In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In she explains that when men are asked for the reasons behind their successes, they most often credit their own qualities by saying things such as “because I’m intelligent” or “I’m creative.” By contrast, when women are asked for the reasons behind their success, they credit external factors such as luck, someone helped them, or they worked hard.
When asked how I got my freelance business started, I have on more than one occasion responded with these EXACT three reasons. Looking back, I can see how that answer fails to credit me for my accomplishments.
When I started out freelancing, I had trouble establishing my hourly rate. I felt that I didn’t have enough experience to charge what was reasonable, so I had a very low price. This resulted in not only clients taking advantage of me, but worse, they assumed I did lousy work. As I struggled to find the right balance for my rates, I met a guy who was starting his own freelance photography company. He is a skilled photographer, but one of his very first jobs was a high paying expedition to photograph professional climbers on a high profile mountain. I was aghast.
“How did you score that job as your first?”
“I went in with confidence, knowing I could do it, and laid a high price on the table. It’s all about the confidence you exhibit.”
And he couldn’t be more right. I was having trouble establishing rates because I wasn’t looking for clients with complete confidence. Instead I was doubting my own abilities, and that inevitably came across in pitches and discussions with clients. Now, having more design experience, more freelancing experience, and better negotiating skills, I can be confident that I have a lot to offer a client. And that confidence can show itself in the way that I talk about myself.
So with negative self- talk, what are women’s costing themselves? They are costing themselves their own success.
Let’s own it. Be fast, be strong, and be tenacious.
How did I get my freelancing business started? I’m creative, so I found alternative solutions to the standard workday script. I’m brave, so I approached people I admired and explained that I could be an asset to their businesses. And yes, I worked hard.
Thank you, it’s true.

Pics – top: Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone (inspiring). bottom: Athleta (one of my favorite brands).

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about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.


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