Book Review: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

photoAs I’ve written before, I’ve been into memoirs lately. This year, I read and loved Ann Patchett’s latest, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. After that, I flew through two light-hearted reads by Sophie Hudson (aka BooMama) and Melanie Shankle (aka Big Mama). Last year, I fell in love with Waiting for Birdy by Catherine Newman. A few years ago, Poser by Claire Dederer and Women, Work, and the Art of Savoir Faire by Mireille Guiliano were some of my favorite reads. There’s something alluring about getting a peak into someone’s real-life story. Wendy Welch’s memoir about starting a used bookstore in small-town Virginia stole my heart. I looked forward to picking it up every night, and I was so sad to finish it. It was the first book I actually reviewed on Amazon. That’s how much I loved it. Anyway, it’s well-worth a read. I’m so glad I own it. The Little Bookstore made me think more about where I buy my books (huge for me because I’m so very devoted to Amazon). And now I’m dying to take a detour on our next road trip to visit the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. 

Author: Wendy Welch

How I Came to Pick Up This Book: Like most of my recent faves, I read about it on a blog and added it to my Amazon wishlist, and then it was thoughtfully gifted to me for my birthday.

First Lines: “People talk about following their bliss, but if you’re stubborn, unobservant sods like Jack and me, your bliss pretty much has to beat you over the head until you see things in a new light.”

Favorite Quotes:

On writing…”I think writers write because it’s a device to make sense of what’s happening around us, to order and calm and clarify our thoughts. We scribble down flashes of insight, observations, ideas because we believe other people will identify with us, understand what we think, feel the same way about something , or even—oh great arrogance—benefit from what we have to relate. Because it’s fun…See writers create because we have to. We’d explode otherwise.”

In response to customers entering the store bearing grief or hardship… “I’ll put the kettle on.”

On the value of books… “We never forget that books are more than the words on the page. They mark important moments in our life journeys.”

Strengths: Wendy’s (I think she’d want me to refer to her by her first name) writing is really funny, yet captures poignant moments in her story. She doesn’t take herself too seriously but her writing captures how she has found incredible depth and meaning in her bookstore. I appreciate the way she describes the characters, with great detail and intentionality. It was interesting to read about the beginnings of a small business and a shop, particularly details about how they first struggled to have enough books and then had to figure out how to fit so many into their shop, what to turn away, and how to let people down easy. The book, though a linear story about how the bookstore came to be, read more like a collection of short stories. The chapters were short and focused on different topics.

Weaknesses: One chapter seemed a bit repetitive and laborious to read, but it was short and easy to skim through.

Fashion Wisdom

I don’t consider myself any sort of fashion maven, but there are a few “rules” I’m learning to live by when it comes to putting together an outfit or buying new clothes. SB and Mom are my favorite fashion icons, which is pretty convenient, considering it’s not too hard to get their opinions (or raid their closets).

IMG_3449

1. A few nice foundational pieces are better than a bunch of cheap clothes. In the end, I think it’s easier on the wallet and more efficient for my wardrobe. This concept is something I really want to work on this year in an effort to pare down and really simplify. I’m a sucker for Target deals, Old Navy prices. What usually happens is that I get home, wear the item once and realize that the fit is actually poor and the materials cheap. Even if I force myself to wear it a few times, this clothing doesn’t hold up well and I end up having to buy something to replace it sooner. I’m starting to realize the brands that work well for me, the ones that I can count on.

2. Pair a slimmer fitting item with a looser fitting item. This is either way obvious or totally dependent on body type. But either way, it’s held true for me. If I wear my skinny jeans, then I typically try to wear a looser, more flowy top. On the flip side, if I wear my trouser fit linen pants (wide leg), I wear a slimmer fitting top.

3. The 3-piece rule. An outfit typically looks pulled together when you remember to wear three major pieces. For instance, skinny jeans, a looser v-neck tee, and a chunky longer necklace. Or, a dress, scarf, and a cute clutch. One last example: dressy capris, blouse, and jacket, and you might add a scarf or necklace with that. I think this rule is helpful for me because I struggle to accessorize.

4. When wearing a shorter dress/skirt (above the knees), go with flats or a small heel. With longer dresses/skirts, wear a higher heel. Again, this statement might not apply to every person’s body type, but it’s generally been a good rule of thumb for me, especially with the surge of short dresses on the market these days. If I wear a taller heel with a shorter dress, I end up showing too much leg for my comfort. On the other hand, if I wear a midi skirt with a flat, I tend to look more matronly. So, pairing that midi or longer skirt with a heel is a look that can really lengthen me out. Disclaimer: I have seen a few midi skirts lately paired with flats, and it looks totally adorable. Just not sure that will work for me.

5. It’s ok to buy a few of the same piece in more than one color if you LOVE it. I tend to wear the same styles over and over again. I know what’s comfortable for me and what tends to work with my body type. So, instead of forcing myself out of my comfort zone all the time (like I did in my mid-twenties), I’ve given myself the ok to buy a few of one style in different colors, particularly if they are super useful.

Here are some items that I have that with:

6. If possible, buy pieces that are adaptable for work and for play. Thankfully, my line of work is pretty casual, so, with a few exceptions, I can get away with wearing the same basic pieces during the week and on the weekends. This has made shopping easier and cheaper for me. I typically try to have a few casual/sporty go-to’s for days where yoga pants are key. But for the most part, I try to buy pieces that can be dressed up or down.

IMG_1362

Something I’m trying to figure out: How to take advantage of sales on clothes going out of season without settling for something I only kinda like. For example, I just ordered a few things from Madewell’s sale (20% off of Sale), thinking that the items could be good transition pieces for Fall & Winter. The items I received were cute, but just ok. I’ll probably return most pieces this week. I kicked myself, once again, for buying things because they were on sale, not because I loved them. I’d like to get to the place where I don’t buy something on sale unless I would buy it at full price. I’m learning.

What fashion wisdom can you share? I’d love to hear!

 

Book Review: The Funeral Dress

Author: Susan Gregg Gilmore

How I came to pick up this book: I heard word of it, and put it on my birthday wish list.

General descriptionThe Funeral Dress is a story of a young woman, who is raising a baby and whose maternal figure, mentor, and closest friend passes away. She sets out to honor this woman by sewing her a dress for her funeral and in the process coming to grips with the pain in her life, past and present.

First lines: “Emmalee Bullard became a Tennewa girl on the last Thursday in May. She woke early that morning, like always, in the back of a two-room house squeezed in tight at the foot of Pine Mountain. But today she’d slipped away beneath the oaks and cedars without waking her father.”

Strengths: I really love the setting, a small Southern town, near some other southern towns familiar to me. Gilmore’s writing is really lovely, poetic, but not overdone. I was impressed with Gilmore’s depiction of the complexities of motherhood, particularly the mixed feelings of the new mother who faced many obstacles on top of raising her baby girl.

Weaknesses: I struggled to identify with the characters in this book, and I think that some of that is due to the character development, which seemed dynamic at the beginning of the novel but seemed to fade a bit by the end. For one, the protagonist was compelling at first, but I was looking for more insight and self-knowledge from her by the end. There may have also been a few too many characters. I struggled to keep up with them, and the characters that emerged at the conclusion were not the ones focused on at the beginning.

 

Our Favorite Things: Toddler Version

It’s taken some time to figure out this whole toy thing, both for my child and in buying gifts for other children. It’s hard to know what a toddler will love. Campbell has lots of toys, but she tends to go back to her favorites time and again. Here are some of those.

IMG_3114

Magna-Tiles. We discovered these magnetic blocks through her day care, and requested some for her birthday. She plays with these DAILY at home, and probably at school too. They work like blocks or legos, but they have magnets in them, so they hold together easily and allow for building structures more easily for toddlers. They come in different size sets; we have the 32-piece, which works just fine for now.

Children’s Dish Set. One of Campbell’s “aunties” sent her this for her second birthday, and ever since, she loves to set the table for her animals, serve us “food,” and generally act like a hostess. I like the fun colors and how it’s easy for her to carry and manipulate. Comes with a pitcher, tray, silverware, plates, bowls, & cups.

Ready-to-Read Dora books. Campbell was gifted these books by a sweet young friend of hers–hand-me-downs. She LOVES them. We read the stories over and over, and she sleeps with these paperbacks at night. Really. The books have images under the words, so theoretically they can help her learn to read. Maybe a few years down the road.

Grocery Cart. Campbell and her dad have a tradition of going grocery shopping every Friday morning, and so it has become a fun thing for her to have a shopping cart at home, too. She loads all sorts of funny things in it and traipses around the living room. I like how the cart has a chalk board, basket, and cart.

Baby Stroller. At least once a day, Campbell darts from one end of the house to another pushing her toy stroller with some sort of object inside. Sometimes it’s a baby doll; right now I see a sippy cup resting in the seat.

Now that I have typed up this list, I see how typically girly her favorite toys are. My inner feminist is kinda flipping out, though hopefully Campbell’s spunk and independence can overcome these sorts of things. Besides, she likes what she likes. Any other go-to toddler toys?

Around the web…

Happy Saturday! (Do people read blogs on Saturday? I don’t even know…) Here are some things that have struck my fancy lately.
IMG_3945
Laughed out loud at this treatise about starting back to school.
Appreciated Glennon’s wise words about mental illness, addiction, and suicide.
Good Will Hunting was a favorite of ours, especially in high school. Have always adored Robin Williams. He will be missed.
Grace’s post on leaving kids home with dad was eerily familiar to me. I make it very CLEAR how hard it is to single parent at times, and then the hubs seemingly does it with ease. Blurgh.
Ordered some toddler clothes for fall from Gap, and I really love these cute tights and this dress that arrived a few days ago.
Madewell has a sweet sale going on right now, and I’ve been eyeing these shoes for fall.
Kristen’s post on what happened in Ferguson made me think and was helpful to read.
Image from our recent trip to Cashiers, NC. 

Visiting Our People

In July, we took a break from the heat and work to go home and visit our families. It was really, really wonderful. We took almost 3 weeks off, which made all the difference. We adjusted from jet lag and had time to relax. I felt totally disconnected from our world in Bahrain–didn’t think about work or the challenges of expat living here. We started in Charlottesville, traveled south to Cashiers, and then went back up to Virginia to round out the trip.

The flight over was pretty great. We woke Campbell up at midnight, drove to the airport for a red-eye to London, where we ate a yummy breakfast at Wagamama and ran around the waiting areas. Then we flew to Dulles. On both flights, Campbell slept 4-5 hours, thanks largely to melatonin. I slept as well, hallelujah.

In Charlottesville, we visited our favorite haunts in our college town, spent time with dear family, grilled some ribs (read: pork withdrawals), got a much-needed trim, and generally horsed around and recovered from jet lag.

In Cashiers, we juggled two babies, hiked, swam, wagon-ed, and celebrated the fourth of July. We slept in, watched Campbell get used to sharing the limelight with her cousin. And, thanks to Mom and Dad, SB & I were pampered for our 30th birthday for the week.

Following Cashiers, we capped off our trip with a second visit to Charlottesville before flying out of DC to the desert. There, we got to spent precious time with grandparents, brothers, brothers-in-law, and old friends.

Our second round of flying was less than awesome. Campbell screamed for 30 minutes straight on both flights. There was no stopping her; she was just too tired to deal with life. We both understood, even amidst the despair we felt during the midst of the crying.

We arrived back in one piece. I faced some minor culture shock and jet lag for the first few days but now we are back in the swing of things. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend our three weeks with anyone other than our family, our people. It refreshed the soul to be home.

Around the web…

Happy Friday, folks! This morning, the hubs took Campbell for a little daddy-daughter adventure to the local market, and I am more than thrilled to have the house to myself and get some stuff done. But first, here are some things that have struck my fancy lately…

I love Mini Boden (great luck with their swimsuits this year), and I have my eye on this dress for Campbell’s fall “school” days…

This video made me so happy.

Have picked up a few of these picture frames since living here, and I love the size and simplicity.

Currently reading this novel and about to pick up this parenting book, after many recommendations…

Listened to a positive review this morning of the new series “The Honorable Woman” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. Now it’s on my to-watch list, which is ever-growing.

This article was enlightening to me about why I get overwhelmed as a parent sometimes.

**Despite the lightheartedness of the links here, my heart is heavy for those who suffer around the world, in war torn areas and in places more hidden from our view. I’m particularly aware today of the privilege and relative ease of my life. And so the weekend begins with gratitude, but also with thoughts and prayers for those facing loss, fear, grief, and violence.