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Posts Tagged ‘gumption’

shortest way home book anemones flowers

Back in early March, I spent most of a happy weekend in Sonoma County – though it was bitterly cold outside here in Boston. I did that not by hopping a plane (though I did fly to SoCal a few weeks later), but by savoring Miriam Parker’s charming debut novel, The Shortest Way Home.

Here’s a bit of the review I wrote for Shelf Awareness:

Hannah Greene has her life all planned out–or thinks she does. She’s landed a dream job right out of business school, and is envisioning a high-powered New York City future with her boyfriend, Ethan. But a weekend trip to Sonoma County right before graduation changes everything.

When Hannah falls in love with Bellosguardo, a small local winery, she talks her way into a marketing job there, giving up her hard-won position at Goldman Sachs and the plans she and Ethan have laid. Despite the winery’s appeal, Hannah’s 180-degree turn isn’t without its stomach-flipping bumps and surprising curves.

Miriam Parker’s debut novel, The Shortest Way Home, follows Hannah’s journey as she struggles to navigate her new path despite the weight of everyone else’s expectations (and her own).

Parker tells her story in Hannah’s voice, sharing both her protagonist’s delight at the beauty of Sonoma County (and her picture-perfect cottage on the vineyard’s grounds), and her anxiety over having made a rash decision that could upend her life. While she doesn’t regret giving up the Goldman job, and is increasingly convinced that Ethan wasn’t the right guy for her, Hannah second-guesses her new career path at every turn. Can she make a success of the winery? Will this new place, far from everything she knows, eventually become home?

Packed with good books, California sunshine and glass after glass of local wine, Parker’s debut is a sweet, funny, charming novel of a woman daring to upend expectations (her own and everyone else’s) to make her own way. Readers will toast Hannah’s roundabout journey and perhaps be inspired to take a detour or two of their own.

In addition to reviewing the book, I got to chat with Miriam about its creation. We had a delightful phone conversation, and I’m sharing a few excerpts from it below:

KG: Tell us about the inspiration for The Shortest Way Home.

MP: In a lot of ways, this book is a dream for me. I love reading, I love wine, I love travel. This was a book I wrote in the mornings, on vacation and on the weekends away from my job. I decided I was going to take all the things I loved and write a book about them.

You’d been to Sonoma before, but did you go back once you started writing the book?

Yes! I took my dog, Leopold Bloom, and stayed in northern Sonoma County. In the mornings I would write, and in the afternoons I would drive around with the dog and interview people at wineries. I highly recommend going on vacation with your dog!

I loved talking to people at the wineries. You learn the most amazing little details! For example: I learned that wineries plant roses at the end of their rows, because they’re much more sensitive than vines. If there’s any disease or blight around, the roses will show it before the vines, which gives the vineyard owner a heads up.

I also loved learning about terroir. Grapes take on the flavor of what’s planted in the ground around them, so if there’s rosemary, for example, they might have a hint of that. But they also take on the flavor of what was planted in the ground before they were: vegetables or other herbs. I thought it was fascinating that grapes take on both the history and the current flavor of the land.

The Shortest Way Home is mainly Hannah’s story, but several other characters are on their own journeys to figuring out what they really want.

Telling a story of people who are at different stages in their lives, trying to figure out what they want, felt really important to me. I spent a lot of my 20s being disappointed that life wasn’t lining up like it was “supposed to.” I was making mistakes, trying things, and everything didn’t feel like the story I’d seen in the movies or been taught to expect. And then I got into my 30s and realized that things don’t always line up: you have to give them space to happen. I think if I could have told my 21-year-old or even my 30-year-old self that, I would have appreciated it.

The most important question: What kind of wine pairs well with The Shortest Way Home?

I think it pairs perfectly with a glass of sparkling rosé on the back patio! Ideally with a nice herbed goat cheese and rosemary crackers.

You can read my full review and Q&A on the Shelf Awareness site. And if your interest is piqued, watch out for The Shortest Way Home when it comes out in July. Cheers!

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iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Last January, I chose gumption as my one little word for 2016. I was partly inspired by Kate Winslet’s character in The Holiday, above – I love watching her discover her own gumption with the help of her friend Arthur.

I’ve been choosing a word nearly every year since 2010, when I chose brave and it sparked, catalyzed and helped me navigate all sorts of big changes in my life. When 2016 began, I was still in the throes of the job hunt, and I chose gumption as a way to pump myself up for the challenges I knew were coming. (As you may have noticed, 2016 also brought all kinds of challenges that I – and a lot of other people – didn’t see coming.)

Some days in 2016 – a lot of days – gumption simply meant getting out of bed and dealing with the day’s vagaries, at work and at home. But it often meant much more than that.

This year, gumption meant speaking up in meetings at work and church, contributing my ideas and asking questions. It meant carving out a place for myself at two different temp gigs at Harvard, then coming back to the first office in a more permanent role. (That was an adjustment in itself, though I am delighted to be here.)

This summer, it meant taking the leap to a new apartment: packing, moving, unpacking, adjusting to a new neighborhood and lots of resultant shifts in my routine. (It also meant heading to NYC, by myself, for three hot, humid, glorious days in mid-August when I couldn’t take the moving chaos any more.)

hibiscus iced tea journal

All year, gumption has meant sending that email, making that phone call, asking that friend to meet up, admitting that hard or vulnerable true thing. It has meant asking a lot of questions about my work (day-job-related and otherwise) and my place in the world. It has meant riding the emotional roller coaster of the election season, and bracing myself for what comes next. It has meant learning how to do a lot of new things, and it has meant summoning my courage, over and over again.

Sometimes I wondered if gumption was really the right word for this year: at times survival, or barely hanging on, seemed more accurate. But I also saw the flip side of gumption this year: the lightness and laughter that often pop up during hard times, when you least expect them.

I think of gumption as a combination of lightness and grit. And while the trials of 2016 required plenty of grit, the year also brought some much-needed levity, mostly via my loved ones. My husband, my coworkers, my friends and the children in my life (my nephews and my friends’ kids) made me laugh and helped me look for the silver linings. I may have chosen gumption as my word, but the words community and belonging (and Darwin’s) ended up choosing me.

I’m still thinking about my word for 2017, as we ease into a new year fraught with (more) challenges and change. I’ll let you know when I decide on a word, but meanwhile, I’d love to know if you have a word for 2017, or if you had one for 2016. Please share, if you like.

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katie pei beach

Several months ago, in the midst of my sixth Boston winter and a yearlong job hunt, I chose gumption for my one little word for 2016.

I’d spent 2015 trying to be gentle with myself and others – a reminder I needed frequently during a difficult year. But as the calendar flipped over, I decided I wanted something with a little more energy, a little more drive. Gumption, as embodied in The Holiday and elsewhere, tackles the tough stuff of life with a twinkle in its eye. I chose it knowing I’d need its particular combination of tenacity and spunk.

Midway through the year, I can say with certainty: I was right.

I spent the first few months of 2016 at a temp gig I loved, which gave me a safe place to land while continuing to balance the job hunt and other worries. That gig led to another temp assignment at Harvard, in a different office (literally) across the street, where I needed every bit of gumption I could muster to learn the ropes of a new place before diving into the swirl of Commencement. I don’t think I took a deep breath for the entire month of May.

Life on the sixth floor, wrangling stories and inquiries from all around Harvard, was a lot of fun, but it was a wild ride. I learned a lot of new systems and a few new skills, and I spent a lot – a lot – of time being brave and hanging on. (Longtime readers will know that brave, my one little word back in 2010, has become both a mantra and a talisman for me: I wear it around my neck and deep in my soul.)

Recently, I’ve been able to breathe a little easier: our trip to PEI and a new job (back in the same office where I temped this winter) have both helped me to feel more settled, less precarious. But I am diving into new responsibilities, and (soon) moving to a new apartment – both of which, not surprisingly, have their own requirements for gumption.

During this topsy-turvy year, gumption has come to mean both lightness and grit: doing hard things, or simply taking care of the business of life, with a bit of whimsy thrown in. It means sending that email, starting that conversation, tackling that work assignment, without taking it all too seriously. It means being brave enough to be a little silly sometimes. It means reaching across to connect with other people, even when I’m feeling shy or sad. It means speaking up when I can’t be silent any more, and it means knowing when to listen.

I have no doubt that the second half of 2016 will require yet more gumption of me. (See also: new job, new apartment and the resulting shifts in routine.) But I am also proud of the way I’ve handled the sweeping changes of the past year. As Iris (Kate Winslet) says near the end of The Holiday, “I think what I’ve got is something slightly resembling – gumption!”

iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Here’s to more tenacity, grace, grit and spunk – more gumption – in the coming months.

Did you choose a word for this year? If so, how’s it going?

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jane of lantern hill book tulips

Can I help you?” said Jane.

Though Jane herself had no inkling of it, those words were the keynote of her character. Any one else would probably have said, “What is the matter?” But Jane always wanted to help.

—Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery

I’ve been thinking about this quote lately, partly because I’ve been rereading Jane’s story again. It is the perfect early spring book: the story of a young girl discovering, and falling completely in love with, a new life on Prince Edward Island with the father she never knew.

I love watching Jane come into her own as she goes, like Dorothy Gale, from a black-and-white existence in Toronto (where her imperious grandmother rules the roost) to the Technicolor world of the Island, where new friends and experiences are waiting around every corner. (The hubs and I drove to PEI a couple of summers ago, and it is as gorgeous as I always imagined, from years of reading L.M. Montgomery’s rapturous descriptions.)

Jane is a dreamer with a kind heart and a wide practical streak, who takes a deep delight in the joys of everyday life and work. In the scene quoted above, she hears a neighbor girl crying and goes to investigate. Elsewhere in the book, she pitches in to help her neighbors with everything from arranging flowers to shingling the barn roof. But when I reread this scene, it struck me that Jane’s attitude is key. She always wants to help. And she asks if she can help.

I am still settling into a new work routine, and some of my responsibilities are clear, while others are more ambiguous. Sometimes I get nervous about stepping on my colleagues’ toes, or figuring out exactly where I fit in the scheme of things. But most of the time, when I ask if I can help with a story or project, my colleagues respond with gratitude – sometimes even delight. (I tend to respond the same way when someone asks if they can help me.) The key, so often, is remembering – and being brave enough – to ask.

Sometimes, I admit, I’m too wrapped up in my own frustrations (or too overwhelmed by the demands of the to-do list) to think about helping other people. And often I am the one who needs to ask for help. But I am trying to take a leaf out of Jane’s book and remember to ask. Because I want to be a person who helps.

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On kindness

on my left print friends bench curly girl

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

This quote has been variously attributed to Plato, Philo of Alexandria, Ian MacLaren (the pen name of a man called John Watson) and many others. I’m not all that concerned with who said it first, but I’ve been thinking about it often lately, because it’s saving my life.

I am fighting a couple of hard battles right now: navigating the seemingly endless job hunt and enduring another long, hard winter. I know I have much to be grateful for: a loving husband, a staunch and supportive family, all the basic physical necessities, so many good books. But life these days is tough. And kindness – often from people I know, but sometimes from total strangers – is making a real and tangible difference for me.

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a breakfast sandwich at Darwin’s, and my order got lost in the shuffle – so one of the baristas gave me a free (heart-shaped) cookie while his co-worker apologized and started making my sandwich. I’m often in there for lunch too, and I look forward to the chitchat with my favorite staff members as they ring up my sandwich and chips. Even a brief exchange about the weather, which has been reliably crazy recently, or a laugh about nothing at all, can turn my entire day around.

I’m reaching the end of a temp gig I have loved, and a work acquaintance asked me last week, “What’s next for you?” “I don’t know,” I admitted. He said he’d keep an eye out for writing gigs for me – and he’s far from the only person who has made that offer. On a cold, gray day in the middle of a week of bad news, that simple gesture made me want to weep with gratitude.

After a difficult meeting last week, I found myself in tears in the middle of my office – not a situation I’d have preferred, but I couldn’t help it. Two of my colleagues supplied hugs, tissues, laughter and encouragement. I’ve only known these women for a couple of months, but I was – and am – so grateful.

As I am on the receiving end of kindness, I’m trying to remember to extend it to friends, family, acquaintances and strangers. These small gestures have bolstered me up as I fight my own battles – so I’m doing my best to pay it forward.

When has kindness made a real difference for you?

(Image from Curly Girl Design – a dear friend bought me this print a few years ago.)

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rilla of ingleside book tulips

I’ve been thinking about Rilla Blythe lately.

Rilla is Anne Shirley Blythe’s youngest daughter, the last of the six children who grew up at Ingleside in the golden years before World War I. In August 1914, she’s nearly fifteen: pretty, pampered, a little spoiled, but still sweet. She’s never had to do many disagreeable things, apart from the occasional household chore. But when war erupts in Europe, it upends her entire world.

Rilla of Ingleside is the story of how the women of Ingleside – Rilla, Anne, their faithful cook-housekeeper Susan, and Miss Oliver, the local schoolteacher – grit their way through the dark days of war. It’s one of the lesser-known Anne books, but it’s one of my favorites. I’ve read it a dozen times, and I love it so much.

As I make my way through both winter and the job hunt, a few lines from Rilla’s story keep coming back to me.

“I finished my sixth pair of socks today,” Rilla writes in her diary one evening. “With the first three I got Susan to set the heel for me. Then I thought that was a bit of shirking, so I learned to do it myself. I hate it – but I have done so many things I hate since 4th of August [when war was declared] that one more or less doesn’t make any difference.”

When war comes, both Susan and Rilla resolve, separately but with similar motivations, to be “as brave and heroic and unselfish” as they can be. Rilla’s declaration comes with italics and drama (she is fifteen, after all); Susan’s comes with a plain, old-fashioned sense of duty. They, and the entire village of Glen St. Mary, spend the next four years adjusting to new realities and, in the face of tragedy, simply doing what must be done.

They are no saints: they get frustrated, tired and worn down, and Rilla shares her troubles with the reader as she blows off steam in her diary. Even Miss Oliver says one day, in a rare moment of desperation, “There’s nothing heroic about me today. I’ve slumped.” But they always pick up courage and go on, helped in no small measure by letters from their boys at the front, and by one another.

I am in the middle of a few long, hard struggles, notably winter (we are now in the grit-your-teeth phase) and the continuing job hunt. I have to do a lot of things I’d rather not do, these days. But often, thinking about Rilla and her umpteen pairs of socks (and the many other tasks of wartime) helps me pluck up a bit of gumption to keep going. As she says to herself on a particularly difficult evening, “I must stay here and see things through.”

I’ve written often about how my fictional heroines keep me company or inspire me when things are rough. Do you have any fictional characters (or good words in general) that you draw on when you need wisdom or strength?

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gumption style charm

My one little word for 2016 is gumption.

Since 2010, I’ve been choosing a word to focus on each year: to guide me, to lead me into new places, and (sometimes) to spark needed change in my life. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that brave, my word for 2010, had an especially powerful impact on me. (I still wear it around my neck, and I feel like I talk about it all the time.)

Last year’s word – quiet, unobtrusive and much needed – was gentle. Throughout an often difficult year, I spent a lot of time practicing gentleness with myself and others. I was ready for a more active word for 2016, but I was surprised when gumption sneaked in.

I first read about gumption in Anne of the Island, where Aunt Jamesina teasingly refuses to define it for Anne’s friend Philippa, saying that “anyone who has gumption knows what it is, and anyone who hasn’t can never know what it is.” Even at eight or nine years old, I sort of knew what she meant. I figured gumption was a combination of common sense, intelligence and spunk. (I even refused to look it up, thinking that would be cheating.)

When The Holiday came out a few years ago, I fell immediately in love with Kate Winslet’s character: sweet, bookish Iris, who travels to L.A. over Christmas to nurse a broken heart and begins to discover a whole new life. I especially love her relationship with Arthur Abbott, the retired screenwriter played by Eli Wallach, who says of his late wife, “She had real gumption. She was the girl I always wrote.”

I’ve watched The Holiday over and over, and I always love seeing Iris discover her own gumption – through Arthur’s wise friendship, the strong leading ladies he advises her to emulate, and her budding romance with film composer Miles. Near the end, when she finally tells off her toxic ex-boyfriend Jasper, I always want to stand up and cheer right along with her.

iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Gumption is, of course, closely related to brave – but it strikes me as a little quirky, a little bit whimsical. It seems to bespeak an inner resilience – grit, yes, but also a lightness. A quiet confidence that it’s all going to work out. A willingness to say yes to new things and ideas. And a bit of sparkle.

I’m still in the middle of some uncertainty as 2016 begins, and I want to acknowledge that, but not to be ruled by fear. I want to face each day with courage and joy, common sense and pluck. I want to savor small pleasures and dream a little. Gumption seems to embody all those things – with a wink and a smile. I’m looking forward to where it might take me.

(Print from ACDShop on Etsy. I bought it for my mother last year and might be buying one for myself.)

Have you chosen a word for 2016 (or done this in the past)? If you have a word, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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