The Jerrie Mock Story

On this day in 1964 an Ohio woman set out to make history. Her name was Jerrie Mock and her goal was to be the first woman to fly solo around the world.

You likely think this record was set by Amelia Earhart but you would be wrong. It was an Ohioan, a housewife who wanted to do something important who set this record.

She departed Columbus in a single engine Cessna 180 that she christened the “Spirit of Columbus.” It took 29 days to cover the nearly than 23,000 miles, besting a California woman who was simultaneously attempting the same feat.

I had heard Jerrie’s story before but recently read a book about her. In fact, it’s the only book about her in print today. The only other book I know of is something Jerrie wrote about the journey that has been out of print for decades.

This particular book is a biography for young readers and it’s well done but it’s a biography for young readers, for crying out loud.

There have been shelves of books written about male aviators. The only female aviator to get much attention at all is Amelia Earhart and most of what is written is centered on her disappearance and the conspiracy theories surrounding what happens.

Even Bessie Coleman who I told you about earlier this year has just a few volumes despite her trailblazing life and career.

Some documentaries about the women’s air races of the twenties and work done about the WASPs of World War II have shown a fresh light on womens’ contributions to aviation but it seems like we can do better.

Jerrie Mock sounds like a real character and like my kind of gal. She struggled mentally to keep her schedule because she wanted to sightsee in the exotic places where she stopped!

I would be the same way, likely deciding halfway through to sacrifice the record for cultural enrichment and photo ops.

She set several records during her aviation career and received countless honors but her accomplishments have very much been lost to time. Instead of being a household name like Amelia Earhart or Charles Lindbergh, she’s a novelty. A trivia question.

And that’s a darn shame.

If you’re interested, her plane is on display in the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. If you can’t make it there, I hope you’ll at least read the book and tell her story to others as a way to honor this woman.

February Reading

The last couple of months have been an extremely productive reading time for me. Adventure season will be underway soon and reading time will be more scarce but for now I’m focusing on a few simple rules – always carry a book, turn off the tv, and choose reading over mindless activities.

It’s worked well so far although many were quite easy this month as my brain has been on overload. Here’s the February pile.

You don’t want to read a review of them all but I will point out a few even though I loved every single one.

Dear Photograph by Taylor Jones

This is a delightful book based around a simple concept. Hold up a photo from the past in the place where it was originally taken. Then write a sentence about what that photo means to you. It’s an easy read but thought provoking at times. It’s also fun to pull off the shelf when you just need something a little different.

Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine

This title was written for a young audience so it was an easy read but one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time. It tells the story of how the director of a Holocaust museum in Japan tracked down the fate of a little girl who was sent to Auschwitz. The museum had received the girl’s suitcase which had her name printed on the side. That’s all the director had to work with – the girl’s name – to unravel the story of what happened to her and her family.

This is difficult subject matter but the story is told respectfully and I am grateful that I stumbled into this book.

Survivor’s Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

CBS This Morning featured a moving segment about the Holocaust last month. It talked about how this horrific event is being forgotten by younger generations and about the increase in people who believe that it didn’t happen at all.

They interviewed MichaeL Bornstein whose photograph was taken in 1945 when he was carried out of Auschwitz in his grandmother’s arms. He was just four that day and had known only loss and misery in his short life. The fact he survived the camp is nothing short of a miracle as the Nazis killed most children on the day they arrived.

The reason he told his story is that he saw his likeness – the picture he uses on the book cover – on a website that denies the Holocaust. He knew then that it was time to educate people and to combat the deniers.

This is a family memoir and incredibly personal but it is exceptionally told. It is heartbreaking and uplifting. Read it.

The Melody Lingers On by Mary Higgins Clark

This author recently died after a prolific decades long career which resulted in dozens of books I’ve never read. When a suspense addicted friend learned of this oversight I was strongly encouraged to put my nose in one of her books immediately, if not sooner. This book is fast paced with a great story line and a twist. I enjoyed it and would certainly read more of her work.

A Fools’s Errand by Lonnie Bunch III

Lonnie Bunch is the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I read this memoir after seeing some interviews with him when the museum opened. He is a fascinating man and an engaging conversationalist (at least in interviews) and I would love to have a museum tour with him. The book tells a fascinating story but it was written by an academic and can be dry at times. Hang in there though.

There are some beautiful stories within these chapters – humorous, sad and enraging at times. He began this museum with nothing. No staff, no money, not even a desk to call his own or a phone extension to reach him. He persevered, engaging celebrities, politicians and common people to find the money, artifacts and willpower to keep going.

The museum isn’t meant to attract just African Americans. It tells the story of America and the important place of African Americans within that story. One of my favorite stories was of the shoe shine man who refused payment because he wanted Lonnie to put the $8 toward the museum. When Lonnie insisted on paying, the elderly African American man said “Don’t be rude. I am not sure what is in a museum, but it may be the only place where my grandchildren will learn what life did to me, and what I did with my life.”

I’m officially dying to go explore.

* * *

I started reading David McCullough’s “The Pioneers” but set it aside for a while. I will be captivated by this book someday but my head wasn’t in the game and needed something a little easier!

What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Eight Out Of Nine Ain’t Bad

This is the year of the book in my world. At least, reading was a priority in January and I’m hoping to keep the momentum going.

January allowed me time to read a few books, some of them short and all in different topics. I found them all enjoyable save for one so that seems like a good record.

First, let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way. The one I hated:

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

The story is told around one day in the life of a Maryland couple. We travel with them, meet friends and family, and learn their back history as they reminisce.

It’s tedious and feels too long. The characters all are annoying and not at all sympathetic. The main character views the world through her own special lens and her expectations are both unrealistic and cringe inducing.

The chapters are too long as well. I kept reading, thinking conditions would improve, only to find myself in so far I hated to cut bait at the three quarter mark. Learn from me. Save your time.

The Winter People by Jenifer McMahon

This work of fiction is intriguing. There’s history, relationships, a present day story, mystery and even a supernatural presence.

I like the way the story jumps around from long ago to the present day. There’s nothing predictable about this story and I enjoyed every minute of it. It takes place in January so winter is a great time to read it!

The Race For Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

You can’t go wrong with a book by this author. To be clear, this isn’t my favorite of hers but it was a great read and inspiring to boot. Strong female characters are a trademark of hers and this title was no exception.

A major theme here is how women journalists were slighted during World War II and how much harder they had to work than the men, only to still not earn respect from anyone in charge.

Sad but thought provoking and it makes you feel some gratitude for how far we’ve progressed.

Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator by Doris L. Rich

There have been just a handful of books written about Bessie Coleman, most with dubious reviews. However, this one sounded good and it’s published by Smithsonian Books, a trustworthy source.

I already wrote about Bessie so I don’t want to dwell here but would highly recommend the book. It’s hard to piece together a true biography about someone like Bessie Coleman. She lived in a spotlight but there are some inconsistencies in what was published about her during her lifetime. She left behind few letters, journals, etc. that might help to build a clear picture of this woman’s life. So this book is slender and much of it is about context – what was happening around her in terms of society and race.

I loved this book, am intrigued by the woman and would recommend it to anyone.

The Blood Of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

This is another one that gives a lot of societal context. This is a huge help for those of us who didn’t live in this time period. This book is graphic, poignant and carefully crafted to tell a story that’s been told many times. This is done in a way that is fresh and relevant.

It’s tough to read and hard to put down – a sure sign that the author has done a good job telling a story that no one wants to think about but that desperately needs to be known. We aren’t that far removed from what happened to Emmett Till and there are lessons here for us all.

Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani

This is the second book in her Big Stone Gap series. The series takes place in a very rural Virginia coal mining community called Big Stone Gap. The heroine was the self proclaimed town spinster until an exciting series of events occurred in the first book.

Bottom line- I adore these books but you have to start with Big Stone Gap. And really, you can’t go wrong with any book by this author. I have yet to find one I didn’t like.

Cat Stories by James Herriot

James Herriot had a successful veterinary career before putting pen to paper to write some classics about the animals and their owners he encountered in his small town practice in England. James Herriot died 25 years ago this month but his wisdom, humor and charm love in his short stories and books. Being partial to cats and beautifully illustrated books, this was a nice break from the racist south after reading about Emmett Till.

The Blue Day Book by Bradley Trevor Greive

This is a glorified picture book for adults to lift your spirits when you are down. All of the pictures are of animals! I pull it off the shelf occasionally and am pretty sure that many of us need something like it to brighten our day occasionally.

A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy

Another slender volume, it gives a short history of immigration to this country beginning with Colonial times through the early twentieth century.

It provides a good snapshot of where we all come from and a timely reminder that most of us aren’t really from here. Our people all came from someplace else and many of them were treated badly when they arrived. In other words, it’s still timely today even though it was published in 1964.

I don’t normally share about the books I read but there were so many good ones last month I thought you might enjoy a rundown.

Which leads to my next question. What are YOU reading? I’m always looking for recommendations!

Around here

It’s a three day weekend for me so today marks the halfway point rather than the end of the weekend.

I’ve accomplished some things this weekend and failed miserably at others.

Yesterday featured some cleaning projects. This was a requirement because the house was littered with cat toys and things that little Scout had knocked on the floor. Johnny Cash sang about killing a man in Reno just to watch him die. Scout knocks things over just to watch them fall.

But my work ethic didn’t last long. It was raining and cold so I ended up in a comfy chair, determined to finish this book so I could move on to some less traumatic material.

This book is graphic, emotional and compelling. The author expertly weaves the story of Emmett Till into the context of the Jim Crow south to create a narrative that’s impossible to put down and hard to stomach all at the same time.

How anyone could be so hateful, so intolerant or so so certain of their superiority over another group of humans is beyond me. And yet, it relates closely to a lot of the sentiments we hear today in this country about immigrants and still about African Americans.

Around here, I’m also doing some cooking this weekend. Today I’ll make a bean and veggie soup, pancakes for the freezer and some granola for the pantry. Yesterday I adapted an internet veggie burger recipe to meet my needs and to use up some odds and ends of leftovers in the fridge.

It was far better than store bought veggie burgers and I know exactly what went into the mix. Interested? Here’s the recipe:

Brandi’s Quick Break From Reading To Make Dinner Veggie Burger

1 can pinto or black beans (drained and well rinsed)

3 Tablespoons tomato paste or ketchup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 Tablespoons flour (I used whole wheat but use what you have)

1/2 cup cooked vegetables – I didn’t cook mine but ran them through the food processor so they were finely chopped. Mine were onions, carrots, corn, spinach and mushrooms

Run the beans through the food processor and mix well with the other ingredients. Shape into patties and place on parchment paper. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for nine minutes on each side or until a bit crisp.

This is an extremely forgiving recipe because it’s designed to use up what you have. Don’t have tomato paste? Use ketchup or maybe some salsa! Whatever veggies you have will do. Want to add a favorite seasoning? Go for it. Can’t eat them all right now? Freeze them.

It really is easy. My apologies for having no photo to share.

Instead, I will leave you with this image. I dared to move Scout’s tent from the kitchen to make mopping the floor a little easier. Here’s the aftermath. It seems there was some kind of riot.

Here’s hoping today is a good day for us all and that I make it back to the list of things I failed miserably at today!

No Spend January Is Here!

January is a No Spend Month for me. It’s a fun little game I’ve played for the last few years where I pay for what is needed but there’s no frivolous spending (unless pre-planned), no impulse buying and no shopping for entertainment. Goodbye, antique malls!

So bills are paid and groceries are purchased but I work on using some things from the freezer and pantry. Yesterday, I stopped at the store for about $10 worth of produce needed to create meals for the week using things I already have. If I stop for gas, my reusable water bottle had better be full because I’m not running inside for a drink. Not even for just a dollar.

There’s a gift to buy this month and a planned dinner and movie with a friend that was postponed from the holidays. That’s all the extracurricular spending that should happen.

This month, I will spend a lot of time at home, using what I own, looking for creative ways to entertain myself for free and simply appreciating the life that I have built and all that I already have. The Depression era mantra “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” comes to mind.

After all the excess and gluttony of the holidays, a spending fast is a welcome relief to the bank account but it’s also a welcome break from commercialism.

We spend a lot of time making money to survive and on spending money on stuff to fill our homes but we don’t always go home and just enjoy the life we have.

It’s is an exercise in gratitude as much as anything else.

I wrote a Winter Survival Guide last fall and it’s here in January that these techniques are truly put to work.

Here’s what’s happening in my world right now:

Books are a priority this year and I’m finding that the more I read, the more I want to read. The problem is that there’s a new one that I’m dying to tear into. I usually have three or four going at once but want to focus on one at a time this year. It can be next.

Cooking is more fun. I always enjoy playing in the kitchen but winter is a great time to experiment with new recipes. This year is especially fun as I’m looking for plant based recipes for my new lifestyle. This week I made a potato corn chowder that was divine and the lunch leftovers were a welcome treat! I also made a pumpkin cookie that was disgusting but we’ll just call that an experiment gone awry and move on.

Organization and purging are another priority. I have a list of areas to hit – from the pantry to the sock drawer to the nightstand and all points in between. It’s shocking how much stuff accumulates over time even when you try to be tidy. The goal is to do one thing from the list every day. The purging extends into intangible areas too. One evening was spent purging emails while watching the Closer on TV. Brenda Lee Johnson caught the bad guys and I unsubscribed and deleted thousands of old marketing emails. The above picture represents a new set of Christmas dishes that need to be put away after some rearranging in the china cabinet.

Movie time! I can’t go to the movies but that doesn’t matter because there’s a stack of movies waiting for my viewing pleasure. One day I’ll make some homemade potato chips and hit the couch for a little movie marathon.

Self care is a priority. Outdoor activity is less common because it’s dark at quitting time but I am trying to prioritize some kind of exercise every day. Rest is also important. My philosophy for most of the year is that you can sleep when you’re dead. During winter, these cold, dark nights call for a warm blanket and an earlier bedtime.

Being happy with the Now is a common theme and resisting the urge to adventure plan involves daily internal negotiations. It’s much harder than it should be. However, the theme of this stage of the year is being satisfied with the abundance of everyday life. Adventure planning can wait a bit. I have started a list of day trip ideas based on suggestions from friends but that’s more about being forgetful than about planning. Being present in this moment rather than dream of the next adventure is a real challenge.

For me, a No Spend Month is an opportunity to get myself together for another year, to set new goals and intentions, to stop buying stuff I don’t need, to nourish my mind and body, and to practice gratitude for what I have.

It gets easier every year and, this will sound sound nuts, but I’ve been looking forward to January for weeks.

Want to do your own no spend challenge? You can set your own rules and make it what you want it to be! You might be surprised at how much money and time you save!

Happiness Is….

Happiness is a stack of books that you’re excited to read and a weekend plan to make reading a priority. My reading list is a mile long but I’m determined to make a dent in it this winter.

What’s on your reading list?

Cultivating a Better Life

I like to take vacation around the holidays. This period is perfect for a forced slow down, to transition from three seasons of busy into my season of quiet.

The rest of the year is occupied by a lot of running around but our unpredictable winter weather often makes it hard to get out. I look forward to this time of year- soft blankets and books, inside chores and quiet walks through the snow take the place of road trips, weekend adventures and breakfasts on the porch.

January is typically a no spend month for me. This organized spending fast means bills are paid and necessities purchased but making do is the common theme and there are no frivolous purchases. Recreational shopping is not allowed but that’s ok because there are many free ways to stay happily occupied.

I’m more apt to do puzzles, to go to bed early and to spin records while cleaning something on a Saturday afternoon.

Relaxation is key and I turn my attention inward, write more, focus on self improvement and on building a better life.

It’s a good time of year.

This vacation is about transitioning into that period. I spent a couple of days running around but today will bake Christmas cookies for my folks. From now until the New Year the plan is to be mostly domestic.

Although, if the weather is good, there may be one last little road trip for the year, a Christmas gift to myself. After Natalie died, I realized that life is too short to not live as we wish.

This week is also about refocusing on plant based eating, exercise and rest. The last couple of months have brought spurts of stress and busyness that have messed with my sleep and left me in a position that I’m glad to just eat vegetarian while away from home rather than the plant based food that makes me feel so good.

In other words, friends, I’m making this break exactly what I need it to be. My wish for all of you is that you get a few days each year to do that for yourself. Remember, today is a great time to start.