Elevated everyday essays

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays by Mary Laura Philpott

3 words: warm, wise, confessional

I love everything about this book. During our Newfoundland vacation, it was my go-to book when I wanted something smart, real, and deep yet light in tone. It was so worth carrying around the hardcover edition.

Mary Laura Philpott is a brilliant essay writer, and I don’t say that lightly. I’m holding her writing up against the work of Nora Ephron and Kelly Corrigan. 

While her essays are highly personal — she writes about her (strong!) Type A tendency and the period when she thought she’d like to live apart from her family — they also address universal concerns. I found myself on these pages, and I’ll bet you’ll find yourself there, too. 

There were sentences that just simply spoke to me, such as:

“When you internalize what you believe to be someone else’s opinion of you, it becomes your opinion of you.” (p. 30)


And then there were paragraphs with which I identified so closely, I nearly cried. 

“I used to think that if only I could make everything perfect, then I could relax and have fun…

But by now, I’ve built up a crowd of selves who can set that little girl at ease. It’s okay, they tell her. Mistakes will happen–they have happened–and it’s not the end of the world. They get her to loosen up a little. They help her see that doing things wrong is part of doing life right. They show her that joy is bigger than fear. It can even be funny when things go haywire.” (pp. 270-271)


These realizations are hard-won, and when they’re expressed this clearly, it makes them even brighter and shinier and more valuable. 

Philpott is not only a lovely writer, she’s also a deep thinker about these little things that make up our everyday lives.

And while it may seem there’s nothing particularly elevated about freaking out about making a mistake, she makes it OK that we’re all in this together, figuring out how to cope with the tiny and mighty challenges we face. It’s comforting to read the words of a fellow traveler on this path. 

Give this book a whirl if you like… personal essays, Type A personalities exploring their own strengths and weaknesses, warmth and wisdom, family essays, women’s lives

Book Bingo: still plenty of time


Book Bingo 2019… even if you haven’t started yet, there’s still plenty of time to finish a row.

We’re talking 5 books here.

We’ve got 4 months left in the year, so that’s just 1.25 books per month. Easy as pie, my friends.

And plus: as Gretchen Rubin says, September is the other January — a great time for starting a new project.

Here’s how to get started…

  1. Check out the Book Bingo card & instructions.
  2. Print the Book Bingo card if you want a copy to carry with you.
  3. If you’re a Facebook person, join our Book Bingo Blackout group & post your latest reads.
  4. Ask in the Comments if you have questions about — or would like suggestions for — any of the categories. I love that stuff.


All right… we’re off & reading!

What I’ve been reading: August 2019

August was a busy month of non-reading activities, so I’m feeling good that I finished reading 6 books.

We were in Newfoundland early in the month, and thanks to the flight and that one evening I read in the living room of one of our B&Bs, I finished 2 books and most of another on vacation. Lovely.

That red chair... I read there.

Here’s what I read in August…


A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

3 words: gritty, realistic, raw

Give this book a whirl if you like… reading about the African American experience, racism, urban living, contemporary classics, plays, expectations, yearning for a better life

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays by Mary Laura Philpott

3 words: warm, wise, confessional

Give this book a whirl if you like… personal essays, Type A personalities exploring their own strengths and weaknesses, warmth and wisdom, family essays, women’s lives

The River by Peter Heller

3 words: lyrical, fast-paced, introspective

Give this book a whirl if you like… thoughtful adventure novels, canoeing, forest fires, male friendship

Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work by Todd Davis

3 words: practical, inspiring, down-to-earth

Give this book a whirl if you like… clear examples of how to improve workplace relationships, worksheets to help develop one’s own approach, working on small steps to be better at one’s relationships

Happy by Design: How to Create a Home That Boosts Your Health & Happiness by Victoria Harrison

3 words: light, practical, pretty

Give this book a whirl if you like… simple tips to brighten your home, a variety of approaches to making a home feel happier, lovely books that are browseable


Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 by Mitchell Zuckoff

3 words: personal, gripping, emotional

Give this book a whirl if you like… reading about the people involved in all aspects of the 9/11 terrorist attack, an up-close view of the events of 9/11, reading about the aftermath of tragedy 

How was your summer of reading? Do you tend to read more or less during the summer months?

Favorite Tote Bags

Anyone have a book bag hoarding problem?   [raises hand]

I get happy — and I mean seriously happy — whenever I get to carry books in a tote. For a quick fix of pure joy, there are truly very few ways to top it. 

Here are some of my most joy-inducing tote bags…

Thea tote

This bag is my newest and a favorite, because:

  • Swedish ribbon
  • Wool
  • That eye-popping happy red!
  • Large enough to hold several books OR my laptop and a couple of books
  • From one of the cutest shops I’ve ever visited — I wanted to buy about 20 things there

Source: The Big Lake, Grand Marais, MN 

She blinded me with library science tote

This one cracks me up every time I carry it. What I like about it:

  • I think it’s hilarious
  • Librarian pride, baby!
  • Lightweight and packable

Source: forgotten (but there’s a similar bag on Etsy)

Powell's Books tote

The Dear Man’s sister brought me back this bag, and an adorable set of book store postcards, after a visit to Portland. What I like about this one:

  • So bookish!
  • Sturdy — it’s made of heavyweight denim
  • Happy — that yellow umbrella!

Source: Powell’s Books, courtesy of the Dear Man’s sister

My best friend tote

The Dear Man’s aunt gave me this book, which has become my book-toting workhouse over the past few years. What I love about it:

    • Large capacity, due to the bottom gusset — you can really pack the books in this tote
    • The quotes… oh my goodness, the quotes:
      • My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read. –Abraham Lincoln
      • When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes. –Erasmus




Source: unknown; gift from the Dear Man’s aunt

Monogrammed bookshelf tote

My mom had this bag monogrammed for me, and every time I use it — or even see it — I’m filled with love for her. This thing’s a tangible reminder of all she gave me and how she loved me just as I am. Beyond those obvious reasons, I also adore these things about this tote:

  • So bookish!
  • Bottom gusset greatly expands its capacity to haul lots of books
  • Handles are long enough that I can carry it on my shoulder comfortably 

Source: unknown; gift from my mom

Anyone else here a book bag lover and hoarder? (I know you’re out there…)

Also… how do you define perfection in a tote?

Talking with strangers: Newfoundland friendliness edition


Send two introverts on vacation in Newfoundland, and one of two things is gonna happen: either they’re gonna talk with a lot of strangers and like it, or they’re gonna talk with a lot of strangers and feel uncomfortable. 

For these two introverts, happily it was the former. 

Even though we traveled with another couple, we talked with strangers on the regular. Meaning: every single day.

It started on the flight from Toronto to St. John’s, when the man seated next to me delighted us with his friendly helpfulness (and his Newfoundland dialect).

Usually when an airline seatmate is chatty, I withdraw into my book and my headphones. In this case, I was enchanted. And the Dear Man and I remained enchanted the whole time we were on vacation, talking with strangers.

Here’s what’s going on in Newfoundland that’ll turn even the most devout introverts into happy conversationalists with people they’ve never before seen

The culture

At our 2nd B&B, we had breakfast with a couple from Quebec. They said they’d told a Newfoundlander their itinerary, and she said, “Ah, you haven’t allowed much time for chattin’ with people, eh?” We all laughed… but within a day, we realized the truth of that comment.

At our 4th B&B, the owner was one of the chattiest people we’ve known — and that was a wonderful gift. He directed us to great restaurants, he told fascinating tales of Newfoundland history, and he answered all our questions with patience and apparent pleasure.

And all of it in a truly delightful dialect that sounded 60% Irish, 20% Canadian, and 20% unlike anything else. Sounding the refrain, he also said, “You can’t know Newfoundland without talking with the people, right.” We were beginning to believe it.

Restaurant owners: also chatty and friendly and helpful. At 2 of the 3 best restaurants where we ate, the owners were particularly kind and happy people. Seriously: they radiated joy.

Sam, our flight seatmate, said, “I think you’ll find the Newfoundland people to be quite welcoming.” (Imagine those words, spoken in the Irish/Canadian/Newfoundland dialect. Lovely, right?) 

Dude was correct.

Also: thanks, Sam, for the invitation to stop by for coffee and for the recommendations of cod tongues with scrunchions and Ches’s Fish & Chips. All so good. 

Bed & breakfasts

When you’re travelling through small towns in Newfoundland, your only accommodation options are B&Bs or cabin rentals.

We stayed at several B&Bs, where we had delightful breakfast conversations with people of the following descriptions:

  • True crime writer 
  • Movie grip 
  • Family history tourist 
  • Retired history teacher 
  • Swiss bankers
  • Retired veterinary professor
  • Couple who live on the same street as our BIL’s sister 

Lack of Internet service

Guess what? No Internet in the fjord

When traveling internationally and being frugal, often there’s no Internet service.

Also, when traveling in remote areas of Newfoundland: no Internet unless you’ve got wifi.

Therefore… more reason to talk with people, to find out information.

And… more reason to talk with people because you’re not all absorbed in the screen world.

Small island

We kept seeing the same people everywhere we went.

Then we’d drive to a new region, and we’d encounter a new group of fellow travelers who’d appear repeatedly at our B&B, on the overlook hike, at the shipwreck site, and then again at dinner.

Hello, friends! We’ll see you tomorrow on the whale watching boat. 


For a couple of confirmed introverts, the experience was nothing short of life-changing. 

I’ve returned to the States refreshed and renewed and feeling like a new human. When I say life-changing, I’m not even kidding.

I love stories of lightning bolts of self-development.

Anyone else have one of those life-changing moments during travel?

What I learned about (not) slowing down

Last year one of my 18 for 2018 goals was to remind myself to slow down. And I did. Kinda.

I set up a Google Calendar reminder that pinged me daily with “Slow down.”

I’ll confess: every day, my reaction was basically:

Then, this year, out of nowhere (it wasn’t even a goal!), I chose a theme word: Comfort.

And guess what?

Totally slowed me down.

It turns out, I need something to aim for, rather than something simply to avoid.

This should be surprising to no one.

Give me a target (comfort), and I’ll try to hit it (within reason; I’m not gonna do something awful just cuz someone suggests it).

The result: I’ve been taking it easier this year (mostly — there’ve also been some fantastic failures already) because I’m targeting comfort.

So if you’re one of those Achiever / Upholder types, I invite you to benefit from my year of slowing-down failure.

Reframe a vague goal about slowing down to smell the roses into a targeted positive goal. (Take 5 deep breaths. Find comfort. Stand up and stretch.)

It’s weird how enticing the slowing-down becomes, once it’s stated as a target (comfort!) to aim for.

Any other Achiever / Upholders out there who’ve experienced this kind of brain jujitsu? What other tips do you have?

Bookish tourist: Leelanau Books

We went there for sandwiches. Big, lusty sandwiches.

We’d heard about the Village Cheese Shanty in Leland, and during our trip to northern Michigan, we made it happen.

And then we found a bookstore. An enchanting indie bookstore. 

We visited Leelanau Books directly after the torrential downpour that nearly drenched us in our sandwich quest.

In spite of the foul weather, the bookstore was bright and airy, and the selections were well-curated.

I saw several books I would have happily bought, but chose Working because I love Robert Caro.

So, one more reason to visit northern Michigan: Leelanau Books in Leland.

Other reasons...






Canoeing the Au Sable River








So, as summer sadly approaches its close, I’m wondering… have your summer travels involved bookish adventures?

News of libraries and good living

I’ve been on the lookout for library and good-living news, and we’ve got some fine stories here, my friends..

Theodore Roosevelt’s getting a library

I love me a good presidential library, and it’s always exciting to hear about a new one on the way for old TR.


While we’re talking TR and books… he was bookish as all heck and even had rules for reading. 

Public libraries keep on improving lives

Turns out, living near a library makes people’s lives better. I believe this in my bones and I love it.

And speaking of community-building…

Maybe talk to a stranger sometimes

Talking to strangers can also make us happier. Even for introverts. (Case in point: I talked with another runner — a woman who was a total stranger — on the path yesterday, and it made my run happier.)

Apollo 11 living history site


When the Dear Man sent me this article about the restoration of NASA Mission Control, I totally got verklempt.



So, good people… what articles are lighting up your life these days?

Daisy Jones & the Six: unputdownable

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

3 words: creative, compulsively readable, fast-moving

I’ve always loved books written in an oral history format, told from multiple viewpoints. I adored:

  • Live from New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests by James A. Miller and Tom Shales
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  • Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career by George Plimpton
  • Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency by Mark K. Updegrove


And one of my dear friends swears by the book Edie: American Girl by Jean Stein, which is also told in this style.

I adore the way the different narrators build on one another’s stories. I love the way they sometimes contradict one another (often in a dryly humorous way). I relish the nuance of the layers of narrative. 

So the format of this book alone was my catnip.

And then you add fame, tortured souls, sex, drugs, and rock & roll — and you’ve got yourself a salacious, sensational book that’s nearly impossible to put down. (True story: I told a friend about this book on a Friday — and by Sunday she’d finished it.)

There’s also a strong dash of 1970s pop culture, and an insider’s look at life in a band. And also at the lives of the spouses and love interests of the band members, which adds another layer of human interest. 

If you think you might read this book, my recommendation is to not read the jacket copy, which I read only afterward. I’m grateful I didn’t know where the narrative was heading, because finding out through reading was part of the pleasure. So I’ll refrain from adding in plot points, because you’ll want to discover the plot on your own. 

Halfway through 2019, this is my favorite book of the year. It kept me hooked all the way through. Oh, I hope you’ll read it…

Give this book a whirl if you like… rock stars; documentary / oral history format; grim humor; the creative life; sex, drugs, and rock & roll; 1970s pop culture


What’s your favorite book so far this year? I’m always on the lookout for great word-of-mouth books, and I love hearing about people’s favorites.

What I’ve been reading: July 2019

I kicked off the month with jury duty, which I thought would allow a fair amount of reading time due to all that time I expected to spend in the waiting room. Not so very true. (But jury duty: fascinating.) 

Here’s what I finished reading this month… 

Everybody’s Got Something by Robin Roberts 

3 words: inspiring, upbeat, likeable

Give this book a whirl if you like… excellent audiobooks read by the author, inspiring memoirs, personal narratives of cancer survivors, living a life of grace and strength, expressing gratitude even during difficult times

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

3 words: imaginative, evocative, psychological 

Give this book a whirl if you like… shapeshifters, #ownvoices, fantasy, Africa, gender-bending, race, power struggles, pondering gender roles

The Policewomen’s Bureau by Edward Conlon

3 words: absorbing, character-driven, emotionally intense

Give this book a whirl if you like… women police officers in the 1950s & 1960s, dealing with sexism, the satisfaction of doing a job well, survivors of abusive marriages, the New York City police department

Dress Like a Woman: Working Women and What They Wore 

3 words: browseable, varied, inspiring

Give this book a whirl if you like… photographs of women working worldwide during the past century, taking pride in one’s work, a feminist view on fashion

The Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful Change by Michael Stephens

3 words: thoughtful, encouraging, open-minded 

Give this book a whirl if you like… being a librarian in the 21st century, new ways to serve the public, a positive voice

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

3 words: character-driven, quirky, observant 

Give this book a whirl if you like… first person narratives, gardeners, quirky narrator, if you like Elinor Lipman, friendship

What books have been making you happy this past month?