Browsing Archives for Book Giveaways

This post originally ran on June 17th, 2008. It remains one of my very favorite posts and Beverly Nichols remains one of my favorite authors. I hope to find one of Beverly’s homes during our stay in London even though none of his homes are open to the public. My plan is to stand on the street in front of one of his former houses (Beverly has since passed) and pretend to be looking for one of my kids… or maybe a lost dog or cat. This way, I have an excuse to wander behind the house and get a gander at the garden. I will have to come up with a different story for why I am snapping photos of everything in site… gathering evidence?… looking for clues?… testing the aperture?… collecting specimens?… Do any of these sound legit?

Evidently, when you live in the English Countryside, in a large rambling Georgian mansion, surrounded on all sides by an outrageously gorgeous garden, the public occasionally shows up and demands a tour.

This is what happened to me a few days ago… except it wasn’t the public.


It was Beverley Nichols HIMSELF!

It would appear he got lost somewhere between Shropshire and Nebraska! I invited him in, made him a cup of tea, and then offered to give him a tour of my own feeble garden. He glanced at his watch and looked at me nervously. I noted his hesitation, was somewhat perturbed by it, picked up a pair of garden shears and clicked them menacingly. Mr. Nichols rapidly agreed to accompany me on a walk through my garden.

As we stepped outside, I explained to Mr. Nichols that I work in a Garden Center, so there is probably very little he can teach me, as I already know everything there is to know about plants and shrubs and flowering thingys. However, if he has any questions regarding grub control, he may want to look elsewhere.

As we advanced to my newly planted shade garden, Mr. Nichols was quick to point out that it was a little sunny for a shade garden.

“Yes”, I answered, “Perhaps… but then again Mr. Nichols, maybe… you are just a little dumb for a smart person!” And then I clicked my shears again.

Beverley cleared his throat. He said that my Hostas and my Coral Bells would probably not do very well in the sun and that I might want to consider moving them to a more suitable location

I told Mr. Nichols to stick it in his stick hole, reminded him that he doesn’t know everything and na na na na na and SEE that little oak tree over there? See it? Can’t you see it? Someday in about ten years that little tree will shade my Hostas just fine!

Mr. Nichols looked at my tiny oak tree muttered something about a wealth of olde oakes and walked briskly towards my Penny Mac Hydrangeas.

I grabbed him by his crisply ironed trousers, clicked my shears a few times and told him to wait up!

He came to a stand still and said shakily, nice Penny Macs.

I narrowed my eyes to two slits and asked him what he thought about my garden path.

He said, well…. uh… um…what exactly are your plans for your garden path…?

I mimicked him in a high pitched voice, “Wel… uh… um… l what exactly are YOUR plans for YOUR garden path?”

Mr. Nichols did not know what to say to that.

He was pleased with my urns.

I told him to shut up.

Then Mr. Nichols saw the new kitty.

I had forgotten how much Beverley loved cats.

I tried to show him my Oak Leaf Hydrangeas also planted in the sun even though they much prefer shade, but he was crouching by the solitary knockout rosebush talking to the new kitty who still does not have a name. I tolerated this for a few minutes, then I clicked my shears and pushed him towards my newest creation… my masterpiece… my Piece De Resistance! I call it my…

Whatever I Grab Before I Leave My Shift At The Garden Center Garden.

It is a wild and unruly collection of Lavender, Tomatoes, Basil, Marigolds, Cilantro, Butterfly Bush, Hollyhocks, Cleome and Valerian I explained to Beverley that this particular garden is kind of … it is kind of um…. moderne... and scraggly… but scraggly on purpose… because that is how I carefully planned it…

Mr. Nichols was as silent as the tomb.

We wandered back to the Annabelle Hydrangea and he breathed an audible sigh of relief.

I asked him if he would like to go for a little boat ride as I pushed the prick of the garden shears into his back. It was then that I realized that I was still wearing my pajamas.

Mr. Nichols pretend not to notice my discomfiture and casually slipped on a life-jacket.

This small act of kindness.

This gallant attempt to overlook my silly pink pajama pants.

Well I didn’t…

I wasn’t sure…



I broke down.

I just couldn’t take it anymore!

Through wrenching sobs and guttural expulsions, and sheets of cottonmouth slobber, I explained that I was never going to have a garden like his garden.



That I was up against a thicket of thorny boys who left their muddy shoes all over my house and who had seven hundred baseball games each before the summer was over and that I had so much dirty laundry to catch up on that I had taken to hiding bits of it in the filing cabinets and under the area rugs and in between my teeth, and that my dishwasher was full again and that we were out of milk again and that my blog stats were abysmal, and that I really don’t know anything about gardening…


Nothing at ALL!

I was just making that up… and in truth I will probably kill all my plants before the summer is over, and I don’t have a full time gardener named Hobbes or O’Toole or Brisbane or whatever his full time gardener was named and I also don’t have a live-in housekeeper named Ms. Wrench, who is terribly overworked because…




I dropped the garden shears in the pond and we both watched them drift harmlessly away as I covered my hands with my face and sobbed some more.

Suddenly I felt a calm hand patting the top of my head.

I looked up into the sympathetic face of Beverley Nichols.

He helped me out of the boat and led me back to my Penny Mac Hydrangeas.

See this bloom, he said.

Yes… I sputtered.

That is all you need. Just one bloom. The bees will come… The flowers will open… The trees will grow… The Shrubs will get more shrubbish…

You will see…

I stared at the pink blossom awhile and felt little prickles of hope dotting the interiors of my fly specked soul.

When I looked back up…

Beverley was gone…

A Bill Bryson Giveaway

April 16th, 2009

A few weeks ago, I wrote of my love for books about grand old hotels.  I do truly love to dream about extended stays at old hotels, but sometimes I am willing to skip the hotel, and just ramble around the country side, often on foot, sometimes via public transportation and occasionally in a car, but only if Bill Bryson is right beside me, providing a running narration the entire trip. 

Bill Bryson is a travel writer.  A very funny  travel writer.  Bill has written books about his travels to Australia, Europe, Africa, and several different parts of the United States.  He packs his bags, kisses his wife and four children goodbye, and sets out on long journeys that often last for months, to explore a small part of the world.  He has an innate ability to discover the craggiest pubs, the craggiest outcroppings and the craggiest characters along the way.  You almost wonder if Bill has some type of crazy character magnet stuck in his skin somewhere.  His insight into both himself, the people he meets and the places he visits are always interesting and often hilarious.  

Somewhere along the way, in almost every book, Bill starts to miss his family very badly.  This is when you will suddenly find yourself in the midst of a few long chapters where he is medicating himself with Reese’s peanut butter cups and six packs of beer.  The entire world turns gray, sodden and weary right before your eyes.  You want to leave him sitting by himself in the dark pub with his cups and his sorrow, but it is too late,.  You have already travelled too far with this man.  You can’t abandon him.  Besides, just a few chapters back he was making you laugh so hard that your spleen busted open.  The only thing you can do is hope that he cheers back up.


And he usually does.

In two or three chapters.  

Watching Bill discombobulate between joyous discovery, penetrating observation, grim determination, scissor like wit, and wretched hopelessness is half the fun of his books.  You truly experience the places he visits right along with him.. as if you were him… except you are not as funny… or hopefully… as given over to bouts of melancholy.  


Or maybe you are…



Today I am giving away two copies of A Walk in the Woods, which is my very favorite Bill Bryson book.

In this book, Bill attempts to hike the entire Appalachian trail starting in Georgia and ending in Maine.  The trip takes months.  He takes his old friend Katz along with him.  Neither of the men are expert backpackers or campers.  They are both out of shape and overweight.  They pack way too much stuff.  They suffer tremendously and they discover several lunatics along the way.  

For what more could you ask?

This book is in my top ten favorite books of all time.  




Bill Bryson grew up in the United States, but went to England as a young man and did not return for twenty years.  While in Great Britain, he married an English girl, had four kids, worked for a newspaper, and wrote the first of many books.  Eventually he decided to move back home.  I’m a Stranger Here Myself is about Bill reacquainting himself with America.  He is stunned by our lust for convenience foods, our need for speed, the ridiculous strangle hold that the fear of lawsuit has on our society, and our astounding variety of personal hygiene products.  Maybe it doesn’t sound like it would be a funny book – but it is.  




In Bryson’s book, “The Lost Continet” he goes back to Des Moines, Iowa where he grew up and begins a journey that takes him through 38 states in and around America’s heartland.  He describes Americans walking around a touristy, Ozarkian downtown with their ever present buckets of soda and a funnel cakes.  He writes about how it has become almost impossible to navigate even a small town without a car as a complete lack of sidewalks and pedestrian friendly crosswalks made it extraordinarily difficult for him to even walk from his motel to a nearby restaraunt.  This book is written in his typical humorous style, but the things that stuck with me the most, are unfortunately not the most pleasant parts of present American civilization.  




In “Neither Here Nor There” Bryson attempts to re-trace the footsteps he took twenty years previously as a young man on a backpacking trip through Europe.  I couldn’t remember much about this book, so I read a few reviews online.  All the reviews were positive calling the book the funniest travel book of the year… uproariously funny… snorting coffee through your nose… except for one which pronounced the book as lewd, obscene, and dangerous.  So now I don’t know what to tell you.  

My best bet is that it is a damned funny book, and if you are super uptight, you probably won’t like it much.  





To win one of these books, simply leave a comment. Winners will be chosen at random sometime on Monday… after I get home from work… and force myself back upright from collapsing in a heap of trembling humanity… on the laundry room floor.

Gladys Taber

March 29th, 2009

Some Gladys Taber quotes…

For the wise…The real evidence of growing old, is that things level off in importance.

For the gardeners…

A garden is evidence of faith. It links us with all the misty figures of the past who also planted and were nourished by the fruits of their planting.

For the homebodies…

Traveling is all very well if you can get home at night. I would be willing to go around the world if I came back in time to light the candles and set the table for supper.”

And for me (and the crazy people like me)…

Perhaps, after all, our best thoughts come when we are alone. It is good to listen, not to voices but to the wind blowing, to the brook running cool over polished stones, to bees drowsy with the weight of pollen. If we attend to the music of the earth, we reach serenity. And then, in some unexplained way, we share it with others.

I discovered the books of Gladys Taber when the Country Doctor was in residency. Back then, I had three small boys tumbling over each other in ever changing degrees of stickiness and sweetness. My only excursions, other than grocery shopping, and trips to the park, were to bundle them all up and head to the library for a brief interval of fast paced book gathering.

After the boys stocked up on their own selections of books and movies, it was mommy’s turn. In those days there was really only one section of the library I was interested in and it was not the steamy romances, the best sellers, nor the parenting manuals (though I could have benefited from them). My special section was the six hundreds. More specifically, the six hundred to the six hundred fortys. This is the section of the library where I happily discovered all the ‘country life’ authors that subsequently filled my diaper changing days with dreams of hay meadows, goat herding, beekeeping, and the hope of someday owning my own little white clapboard house in the country… with a glorious garden out back, a tumbling orchard full of rosy fruit, a small lake upon which my yacht was moored…. that takes me to the four corners of the earth… from which I bring back gilded treasure and magic lamps and jewel encrusted arborvitae and… what? Oh! Sorry! My dreams got a little mixed up there. Back to Gladys and her simple country home…

Gladys Taber wrote over forty books from the little desk beside her bedroom window in her own white clapboard house in the country. I have a few to give away today. But first please… if I may… let me tell you a little about Mrs. Taber.

The first thing you should know about Gladys is that she was completely and totally unafraid to be sentimental. She could be extremely sentimental. She named her Abyssinian kitten ‘Especially Me’ for crying out loud! She was sentimental about everything from her milk glass collection to the neighbor boy who mowed her grass. I always wondered from where all her sentimentality (which tends to dance on the edge of melancholy) came. In my mind, I imagined that Gladys never really recovered from the death of her husband. But just today I discovered that Gladys was not a widow… she was a divorcee’! Gladys did not write much if at all about her marriage. In the majority of her books, she lives with a dear friend who is a widow, and from this I always assumed that Gladys herself, was also a widow.

There are many theories as to why Gladys got divorced. I am not sure which to believe and since Gladys never explained it, I guess I will never know. If you are an established Gladys fan, you can visit this site to read some of the theories as well as a good post on her work… you will want to read the comments as well.

By the time Gladys moved in 1943 to the Connecticut farmstead she would eventually name Stillmeadow, she was already a published author and a magazine columnist for both Ladies Home Journal and Family Circle. Stillmeadow and eventually, a second house called Still Cove would serve as the primary inspiration and the backdrop for almost all of her writing for the rest of her life. At Stillmeadow, she raised her daughter, bred cockerspaniels, collected antiques, explored the nearby countryside, grew a garden, learned how to decorate, tossed her Abyssinian kitten off the typewriter time and time again and wrote and wrote and wrote.

Gladys wrote cookbooks, interior decorating books, books of letters, and children’s books, but mostly she wrote of her love for her home, her friends, her family and her little farm. A Stillmeadow book leaves the reader warmed through and through as if you were sitting by the applewood fire’ beside her, stirring the ashes, reaching back into your own memories, making stories out of family dinners, the neighbors cattle, the way the maple leaves dance down the road… it is sentimental, yet moving, comforting, yet funny, touching yet poignant and very, very wise. Gladys saw the beauty in the ordinary and brought it’s abundance to everyone’s kitchen, it’s fragrance to everyone’s nose.

A stern warning to the uninitiated Taber reader. Once you walk through her front door, you may find it very difficult to leave.