of gardens and grandmothers
a podcast with Margaret Roach
(and a book give-away, too)

unspecifiedIt’s just after 5 a.m. as I type these words, still completely dark outside. But my friend Margaret Roach and I have already said “Good morning” via Skype with a blitz of typed messages. (It’s way too early to talk out loud and risk waking my husband, recovering from a week of flu in our bedroom down the hall.)

Margaret reports she’s having trouble sleeping these days, too. Combine post-election angst, the unusually warm November days,  darkness descending suddenly at 4 pm each afternoon, and a moon that demands one’s full attention, and it’s little wonder that we’re each feeling a bit out of sync with our normal routines.

[continue…]

Dear Older, about these cars. . .

sport-fury-brougham“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.” ~Goethe

This is the second in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 55) and she’s Older (facing 60 this year). And since we’re surely not the only ones buying wrinkle creams, we decided to share our exchange with you, too.  Be sure to read Margaret’s letter to me here.   

Dear Older,

Oh Margaret! You would have to bring up our cars.

Well, I’m not going to lie about age here.  Yes, my Acura is ten years old.  And she’s about to roll over 170,000 miles – that’s a lot of trips taken, a great deal of life lived, many bridges crossed.

Buying this car was the first thing Steve and I did in 2003 when we left the suburbs of Boston and moved back to my country roots.  If we were going to make our home in a place where the last snow might not melt til mid-April, I wanted a car that would carry me through our Northern winters without too much anxiety on my part.  “Good in snow” was my top priority when we went out shopping for new wheels.

It’s worth remembering that gas cost $1.54 a gallon when we arrived in New Hampshire to embark on this new life.  “Good mileage” was on my list, but it was somewhere below good visibility, comfort, and safety.

Jack was eleven and Henry was just starting high school when I began driving the kids around rural New Hampshire in my brand new silver MDX. (Family trips we took in our Toyota Sienna minivan – plenty of room for two parents, two boys, one dog and gear for all, and already showing the wear and tear of four years of hard daily use.) The Acura was the nice car.  My car.  And, I’ll admit: it was and is the only car I’ve ever loved.

A little back story:  I’m not a natural behind the wheel.  I shudder to recall my first solo forays on our rural roads after I got my driver’s license in 1974.  The car: my parents’ 1970 red Plymouth Fury sedan, graciously bequeathed to me.  The most notable feature of that car was its size.  Huge. I have vague, unsettling memories even now of drifting around curves in the road, wondering if I was going a little too fast, fighting to hold the car on the pavement, straining to sit tall enough in the broad, slippery seat to see out the windshield.  [continue…]

A friend, a cause, and a special thanks for you

D & K

Three years ago this week, my friend Diane and I took a walk around her neighborhood.  I remember we went slowly, taking our time, enjoying the sunshine and each other.  Although we talked and laughed as we always had, my heart was heavy. I knew it would probably be our last walk together.

But what I couldn’t have known on that August morning was that although Diane’s own four-year journey with ovarian cancer was coming to an end, my walking partner’s legacy would live on.

As I set out just after dawn today for a long, solitary walk on a quiet country road, I found myself thinking of my friend.  Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her. I miss our long walks, our trips to the farmers’ market, our overnight get-aways, fast rides in her little chocolate brown sports car.  I miss her e-mails (which always seemed to contain the words I most needed to hear), the sound of her voice, her perfect, light-as-air scones, her pleasure in a glass of good champagne, her no-nonsense advice about kids and recipes and neighborhood dilemmas.  I miss hearing her views on politics and tv shows and books and which jeans looked best on me.  [continue…]

Book giveaway, events, and online chat

backyard parables and magical journey

 

A mother’s midlife memoir paired with a gardening book?

What, you might well ask, could these two volumes possibly have in common?   And why would a married mom of two and a resolutely single, encyclopedically knowledgeable, former-Martha-Stewart-publishing-executive-turned-rural-hermit ever become writing partners, let alone dear friends?

Well, if age teaches us anything, it’s that life is full of surprises – and that the relationships that bloom and blossom in the langorous afternoon of life are often quite different from those of its bright morning.  No longer bound to our friends by social stratifications, proximity, or the shared duties of parenthood, we find ourselves connected, instead, at a soul level.  “Friendship,” writes C.S. Lewis, “is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What? You too?  I thought I was the only one.’”

And so it was with Margaret Roach and me.  Coincidence brought us together (we share a publisher, and our editors had given us galleys of each other’s last books).  But it wasn’t until we met in person, at a bookseller’s convention two years ago, that we each experienced that unmistakable “click” that signals this is someone who is meant to be in my life.

Reading Margaret’s work, I knew right away I was in the presence of a kindred spirit — someone who finds pleasure in the small moments, who draws sustenance and inspiration from the frogs in her pond and the flowers at her doorstep, who is more at home stirring a pot of home-made soup at the stove than hobnobbing with fellow writers at literary soirees.

Becoming her friend for real, spending overnights in her guest cottage and sharing countless dinners together, only confirmed what I’d already suspected: different as our lives may be on the surface (Margaret never has to postpone a writing project because a son needs help on his college application; I wouldn’t know a Chaenomeles x superba if one was in full bloom in my own yard), we nevertheless have much to offer each other – gifts of time and support and perspective on the universal challenges (and joys!) of growing older and, hopefully, just a wee bit wiser.

So maybe it’s not so surprising after all, that when we exchanged manuscripts of our most recent books, we each found ourselves scribbling excited “Yes!” notes and exclamation points in the margins.  There were so many common themes that we had to laugh.  And then we realized that of course our readers would probably enjoy getting to know one another as much as the two of us had.

Since our books came out last month, Margaret and I have appeared together at bookstores all over New England – and we can now report that our hunch was right.  The conversations are lively, our joint readings fun for all, and the connections and cross-overs always surprising and delightful.

So, consider this your invitation to come join us!  Win our books (signed, personalized copies), hear us speak, or if you can’t make it to one of the events below — jump in to our free online chat starting Monday on Goodreads.

 

 Duets with Margaret

The goodreads.com event
Goodreads is like a giant online book club that never sleeps. It’s amazing, and it’s free; a great place to get tips from other keen readers on books to look out for, according to your interests, and to “talk” to authors. Margaret Roach (author most recently of “The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life”) and I will be there Monday February 25 for an open forum, to answer your questions about our new (or older) books, about writing, or about whatever you feel like asking about.

In our in-person events recently, the topics have ranged from finding midlife friendship, to raising adolescent boys (or unruly plants), to recipes we’ve swapped and books we’ve both read, to our writing “process” (Margaret paces, I sit still for hours on end)—no kidding, that wide a range, and more. Fun! So come share whatever’s on your mind. Won’t you sign up and join us?

The in-person events

  • Sunday, February 24, 3 PM: POSTPONED DUE TO WEATHER. Reading and conversation with author Margaret Roach from our two new books, her “The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life” and my “Magical Journey” An Apprenticeship in Contentment,” at the Concord (MA) Bookshop.
  • Thursday, February 28, 7 PM: Reading and conversation with author Margaret Roach at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, Troy, NY, hosted by memoir-teacher and author Marion Roach Smith.
  • Sunday, March 3, afternoon: Two events, same location: 2 PM, “The 365-Day Garden” slide lecture by Margaret Roach. 3 PM, a reading and conversation with me and Margaret from our two new books, at Battenkill Books, Cambridge, NY.

How to win the signed books

To enter to win a signed copy of “The Backyard Parables” and one of “Magical Journey,” too, simply comment below, answering the question:

What’s the last book you read that you recommended afterward to a friend, and why?

Then to double your chances to win—two sets are being given away on each of our websites—scurry over to Margaret’s book giveaway now and paste your comment there as well.

No answer to the question, or simply feeling shy? No worry; just say “count me in” or something to that effect, and we will. Winners will be drawn at random after entries close at midnight on Wednesday, February 27. Good luck to all.

A duet with a friend — and some good winter soup

I practiced a visualization all through last winter, one I returned to again and again as I sat alone writing in my son Henry’s upstairs bedroom. In my mind’s eye I saw my friend Margaret Roach at my side, finished books in our hands, the two of us doing a reading together.

Margaret, I knew, was holed up in her own snug little house three hours from mine, working on her garden memoir, “The Backyard Parables.” Most mornings, before settling down to serious work, we would send each other a Skype greeting.

“You ok up there?” she’d type, usually around 6 am, the hour both of us consider the best for getting any real thinking done.

“Yes,” I’d type back. “Plugging away.”

“I’m here,” Margaret would answer. And somehow, just knowing that she was, brought me comfort. We were a writers’ group of two, with book deadlines just weeks apart. Whenever the going got tough, as it seemed to at some point in nearly every day, either one of us could reach out. Commiseration was never more than a click away.

We didn’t show each other our manuscripts until we had both finished writing – among other quirks we have in common is a need to work in deep privacy. But when Margaret came to the end a few weeks before I did, I felt inspired to push onward myself – I knew she was waiting for me at the finish line, eager to exchange our first drafts.

What we found, as we each began to read, was perhaps inevitable. Margaret was chronicling a year in the garden she has loved and tended for twenty-five years. And I was writing about the challenges of adjusting to a new stage of life without children at home. Yet it turned out that, unbeknownst to either of us, many of our themes were identitical: loss, change, acceptance, transformation, aging, gratitude, grace.

Some of the parallels made us laugh as we scribbled exclamation notes in the margins: Turned out we had both stood in front of our respective bathroom mirrors, tugging our middle-aged, crepey neck skin up and back, contemplating the very distant possibility of a nip or tuck to tighten things up beneath the chin.

But we also realized, as we read one another’s work, that perhaps what had seemed unique to each of us as we labored away in solitude is in fact universal: married or single, mother or childless, employed or not, rich or poor, gay or straight, each and every one of us must eventually find a way to navigate the tricky passage between youth and age.

It seems that the great challenge of our middle years is to figure out how to move into and through the second half of life with joy. Joy even in the face of inevitable loss; equanimity even in the face of relentless change; wisdom and grace even as old roles and old dreams fall away and new ones are slow to take shape. We may travel different paths through life, and yet perhaps there is no woman anywhere who doesn’t long at some point for an inner road map, some kind of guidance as we are called to release our illusions of control, to let go of who we once were and to embrace who we have become.

Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me at all that my friend and I have both spent the last couple of years quietly grappling with these very challenges – for aren’t these also the topics of conversation whenever women come together and summon the courage to drop our public faces and share our true struggles and stories?

As it turned out, our publisher decided to bring our books out within a week of each other. And suddenly, it seemed that my sustaining vision – the two of us together, holding finished books in our hands – might actually become a reality. In October, at the New England Independent Booksellers’ Association meeting, we tried our idea out on some booksellers.

“You can have us separately if you want,” we said. “But we’d also be happy to come to your store together.” By the end of the weekend, we had a whole list of bookstores that liked the idea of our “duet.” And so it was that last week, the two of us sat side by side on a couple of stools at Margaret’s house and read aloud for the first time, to a room full of invited guests – our dress rehearsal, so to speak, to make sure the program we’ve been imagining all these months would actually work.

Wine was poured, dinner was eaten, and the conversation flowed. Our test audience was kind and enthusiastic, and the passages we chose to read seemed to speak to one another in two-part harmony – two friends, two lives, two voices, two books, with much in common and much to share. By the end of the evening, a room full of women who had arrived as strangers to one another were all chatting like old friends. I looked around and took a moment simply to allow myself to be grateful: for cameraderie and home made cookies, and also for the deep, spontaneous connections that the written word, when shared aloud, can always inspire.

“That was pretty fun,” Margaret and I agreed the next day over lunch, as we ate some lentil soup I’d brought to share with her. And so, come January, we are taking this show on the road.

In the meantime, learn more about our friendship, and The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life at Margaret’s blog, A Way to Garden.

You can read excerpts from both Magical Journey and from The Backyard Parables simply by clicking on the titles.

But perhaps the best way I can introduce you to my friend is by sharing her video with you. (To watch mine, just click HERE.)

It was Margaret’s idea to share the soup recipe as well. That’s below, followed by a list of all our joint appearances this winter. Mark your calendars! We’d love to meet you.

lentil soup, adapted by katrina

ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped finely, or one large shallot chopped
  • 1 leek, white part only, chopped finely
  • 2 celery branches, diced finely
  • 4 twigs of thyme, chopped finely
  • ½ teaspoon saffron
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 branches of parsley or cilantro, plus more to garnish
  • sea salt and pepper
  • large can of diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 2 tablespoons double concentrate tomato paste
  • 2 cups dry French green lentils
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cups peeled and diced ‘Butternut’ squash
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups white wine (or vegetable broth)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced

steps

  • In large pot, heat oil, add thyme, cumin, turmeric, garlic, saffron, shallot, leek, celery, and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes, till veggies are softening.
  • Add tomatoes, tomato paste, cook one minute.
  • Add lentils, carrots, squash, cook one-two minutes.
  • Add water, wine, bay leaves, cilantro, season w. salt and pepper, cover and simmer till lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.
  • To serve: Ladle soup into deep bowls, top with a poached egg, a heaping tablespoon of creme fraiche (sour cream or yogurt can substitute), chopped cilantro or parsley leaves, and a dash of paprika.

(Recipe liberally adapted from “La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life” by Beatrice Peltre)

about our upcoming events

Margaret and I will be reading together from our two new books, “The Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening, and Life” and “Magical Journey” An Apprenticeship in Contentment,” at bookstores and other venues around the Northeast this winter. Come join in our conversation–or invite us to visit your library or bookstore or book group (virtually by Skye, or in person) by emailing using this contact form.