These Farmhouse Bookshelves

It has turned suddenly cold and windy. Cold enough that we considered firing up the woodstove in our kitchen this morning.

It has also turned dark. Thanks to a nor’easter, we’ve had rain and clouds for days. The sun rises noticeably later. It sets before any of us are at all ready.

It feels like October. Which is right on schedule, I suppose. Isn’t it comforting when nature’s patterns prove reliable?

Pumpkins at the Farm Market

This week I went to one of our local farm markets and filled my cart with pie pumpkins, butternut squash, acorn squash, and Concord grapes. Now what I really need to do is stock up my nightstand with fresh books for autumn. Dark nights were made for books.

If you’d like to do the same, here are a few I’ve picked up recently.

Earth Works: Selected Essays by Scott Russell Sanders is an excellent collection of thoughtful essays by one of the best writers working in that genre. For the price of one book, these thirty essays could keep you company all winter. Like most of the best things in life, they should be appreciated slowly (however, I’m sure you will be tempted to gulp them down. But don’t! They are too wise, too lovely for that).

Sanders writes about houses and marriages. About the stars and beauty. He writes to discover, and the thing he wants to find, the question he seems most compelled to ask, is some variation on what it means to live well. How can we live in harmony with ourselves, with one another, and with this beautiful, astonishing planet that is our home?

All of us ponder our lives. … Essayists choose to do such reflecting, remembering, and imagining in public, on the page. – Scott Russell Sanders

Here is my new favorite book for little people: A Party for Pepper: A Hazelwood Forest Counting Book by Sarah Hartsig.

I discovered Hartsig, the artist behind the world of Hazelwood Forest, on Instagram, and I love her subject and style. If you enjoy Tasha Tudor and Beatrix Potter, you will love Hazelwood Forest, too.

I think we adults should buy picture books (and support talented artists) for ourselves, but I am fortunate to still have a small book-loving person in my life, so the choice, for me, was easy. I gave A Party for Pepper to Elsa on her third birthday in September, and I can honestly tell you it was one of her favorite gifts. Numbers are her thing right now, so while I enjoyed the depictions of sweet animals taking tea, Elsa counted and counted the gorgeous watercolor numbers.

I am already eager to see what Hartsig creates next.

Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World by Suzanne Woods Fisher was sent to me by a friend who read my recent blog posts on simplicity. She thought I’d like this book, and she was right. I haven’t finished it yet (this, too, is a book best absorbed slowly), but I can already recommend it.

Here are stories from Amish lives and reflections on Amish belief and practice for the rest of us. The tone is respectful but not fawning, and the author, though not Amish herself, has family roots and ongoing relationships within a plain community. In other words, she is not a voyeur, nor does she think we should all be Amish. Rather, she knows these communities well, her own life has been enriched by their wisdom, and she is interested in sharing that wisdom with us.

The book is organized for small group discussions. At first, I skimmed the discussion questions that come at the end of each brief chapter, but it finally dawned on me how much I would love to read this book with a group. I know there are some aspects of my complicated life and world I take entirely for granted or view as entirely fixed.

Reading this with a group, I wonder if we might discover just how much  we are not required to live the lives of overly busy consumers that our world demands?

We non-Amish types might object to having a church choose our house paint. The Ordnung seems confining and restrictive, invasive, even. It’s true that the Amish are not free to do some things. However, they are free from many others. – Suzanne Woods Fisher

On this same theme, I shared a story at the Art of Simple this week about slowing down to the pace of a horse-drawn buggy. It’s a story about slow travel and sacred places. It’s a story about placemaking. It surprised me as I wrote, and I am still pondering the ideas that emerged. I hope you’ll read it and ponder with me.

Happy Saturday, friends.

These Farmhouse Bookshelves

I sometimes worry that I have run out of books to recommend. Surely I’ve shown you every single book worth its shelf space in this old farmhouse?

But then I glance at my lap (there is almost always a book in my lap), and I realize that some of the books I love the most, some of the books I am so used to seeing, always at hand, are books I’ve never mentioned in this space.

Over the next few Saturdays, I will tell you about those books. They are the books I trip over on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. They are the books I find splayed and dusty underneath my little boy’s bed. Alas, they are the books most likely to sport ink or crayon marks from the budding baby-girl artiste.

They are rarely new or hip or trendy. I probably haven’t bothered to review them on Goodreads. But they are my constant companions.

And I hope you learn to love them, too.

(P.S. These posts contain affiliate links. Find all my book recommendations here.)




Quite a few of these special books are illustrated by Tasha Tudor. I have recommended one of her books before. It may be my favorite picture book I never read as a child. Recently, I pulled our copy of  1 Is One down from the shelf. I’m fairly certain I bought this book as a first birthday gift for my oldest (which means it’s been on our shelves for nearly a decade).

This is a counting book (1 is one duckling swimming in a dish, 2 is two sisters making a wish …), and every child deserves to learn their numbers by counting twinkling stars (18!) and baby birds (12!). It features Tasha’s signature watercolors, old-fashioned settings, and naturalistic details. I am pleased as punch to report that one-year-old Elsa now adores it. We never read it unless we read it three times through.

Tasha Tudor was a prolific illustrator, and her books are fairly easy to find at used bookstores and thrift shops. I still remember the pleasure of finding her edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses at the Printer’s Row Book Fair in Chicago.

Though she published her first picture book in the 1930s, Tasha and her books seem to come from a much earlier time. Apparently, she believed, only half-jokingly, that after dying she would return to her home in the 1830s, a strange sentiment I’m afraid I can relate with all too well. There is still a small part of my mind that believes, against my better judgement, that life would be so much better if I had twenty-two tiny buttons marching up my boots and was skilled with a button-hook (a romanticism inherited by my daughter who sighs deeply and says she wishes she were Amish every time she spies a little girl wrapped in bonnet and shawl).

These illustrations are like miniature worlds, and they are worlds I long to recreate. This may be why I spend so much time with two books written for adults: The Private World of Tasha Tudor by Tasha Tudor and Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin.

These large photography books take you inside the beautiful eddy in time that Tasha created at her Vermont farmhouse. Full of antique clothes and toys and cottage-garden flowers, these books prove that Tasha created her paintings from life. She dreamed it. She cultivated it. And then she painted it.

I do not actually own either of these books, but I have checked them out of my local library so many times that I really should buy both (but I might wait a few weeks since my birthday is June 23, ahem).

I especially love Tasha Tudor’s Garden. The writing is a bit too hero-worshipful, but I could live in the pictures.

Tasha’s ideas about plants are quirky and idiosyncratic, and I find that they give me permission to garden just as personally. I happen to love African violets, but their velvety leaves make Tasha shudder. I’ve always been skeptical of daylilies, so it’s a relief to read that Tasha finds them “raggedy.” And I have shamelessly copied the formula of her peony beds by planting a mass of peonies with lily bulbs to bloom after and edging the whole affair with purple verbena.

In researching this post, I discovered that Tasha illustrated a picture-book version of Psalm 23 (The Lord Is My Shepherd: The Twenty-third Psalm) and the Lord’s Prayer, or “Our Father” (Give Us This Day). It is possible that I purchased copies of each before finishing this post.

Life isn’t long enough to do all you could accomplish. And what a privilege even to be alive. In spite of all the pollutions and horrors, how beautiful this world is. Supposing you only saw the stars once every year. Think what you would think. The wonder of it!”


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