You’ll look sweet upon the seat: Hello, Bicycle (review)

Hello Bicycle (Blogging For Books)
Anna Brones
Ten Speed Press

Six years ago I treated myself to a new bicycle. I read reviews, talked with biking friends, browsed online, and finally went to a local bike shop to make my purchase. It was the Real Deal: a shiny black and chrome city bike. I was in love. Twice a week I rode two miles to the Farmer’s Market, packed up my saddle baskets with goodies, and pedaled back home.  I biked to the library. To neighborhood association meetings. And sometimes up to a nearby technical high school just to delight in the winding roads of their campus.

This little gem by Anna Brones, Hello, Bicycle: an inspired guide to the two-wheeled life, makes me long for those lazy summer days when I can get pedaling once again. The book definitely isn’t for the snooty serious rider–those spandexed, be-numbered riders with calves of steel who hunch over handlebars like it’s the Tour de France. Rather, it’s for the rider who might still be a bit daunted riding in traffic and is just getting used to having helmet hair. Hello, Bicycle is like sitting down with a chatty friend who has a few good tips to share. You know, the kind of friend whose enthusiasm is so catching you can’t resist joining their latest adventure.

There are tips I’d put in the everyday advice column: wear a helmet, pack a rain jacket, use bike lanes. And then Brones turns into that chatty friend I mentioned. She oh-so-casually-like-it’s-no-big-deal writes about touring and slow rolls and S240s. Before you know it, I have the Peterson’s Official S240 Packing List” asterisked, as well as arrows drawn on the page “Pantry and Kitchen Essentials for Cyclists.” Who do I think I am?! My longest ride has been all of five miles. But that’s just it–Brones makes it seem doable for even the novice cyclist. Add James Gulliver Hancock’s cute illustrations and catchy graphics, and Hello, Bicycle is both a how-to manual and an inspirational all-in-one. (The photos on this post are from the illustrators website.)

In my own Great Lake state, we’ve put winter behind us. The robins arrived a few weeks ago, and days have lengthened. The snow is long gone (we hope!) and the littlest bit of sunshine has us swapping out our down jackets for windbreakers. I’ve a mind to take my bike out of winter storage this weekend. Hello, Bicycle would be the perfect gift for Someone Special who is thinking about getting back in the saddle seat or who has that new bicycle and is ready to roll.

As the shopper rushed home with her treasures: Bailey & James Boutique

Bailey & James Boutique
51 1/2 Bridge Street, Rockford

This time of year I daydream about an idyllic Christmas shopping experience that is a far-stretch from mall shopping: pretty store fronts, quaint little shops, lighted trees, carols in floating on the breeze. Throw in a few fluffy snowflakes and I’ve got a perfect evening, something a little Norman Rockwell with a dash of Chicago boutique. Yesterday that daydream came alive for a couple hours–minus the snowflakes (we’re having a rec0rd-breaking “heat” wave in Michigan this December!).

Shop owner Amber Kneibel opened Bailey & James Boutique  several months ago  hoping to “create a space that is fun, warm, and welcoming”  and where customers would feel like family. Nestled in downtown Rockford, the cozy shop combines a homey atmosphere with some very classy gift items (most created by local Michigan artisans) and vintage decor pieces. Amber says, “Our vintage pieces are heavily sourced from the 50 and 60’s. We embrace color, the farm chic movement, and we adore those that make handmade goodies right here in the mitten!” I had no problem leaving the store with a few unique gifts for some special people on my list: a guitar string bracelet, a hand-stamped wine bottle charm for gift giving (maybe!), and a cute little something-something for a Special Gal who (rumor has it!) just might get a sparkly ring for her left hand this holiday season. Nothing makes me a more satisfied shopper than to leave a store with gifts my loved ones won’t see in every other store in the mall.

Bailey & James Boutique
Bailey & James Boutique

 I attended a private event Amber held for local bloggers–something I think other small shop owners would be smart to do. The quiet afternoon hours gave Amber time to talk to each blogger, answer questions, and share her love of All Things Pretty. Small businesses often take root and grow when friends and fans share the love. Smart business woman, this Amber!

And Bailey. Don’t get me started. A dog rescued from a dog fighting ring, this sweet girl gives each customer a gentle (and very polite) welcome. I was so wrapped up in hearing Amber tell Bailey’s story (and also a little teary) that I didn’t even get a photo of the shop’s namesake.

But you can be sure I’ll be back–and probably fairly soon. (Like this week?!) I didn’t get a print that would look perfect in my kitchen …


*this post is not sponsored by Bailey & James Boutique, nor was my opinion solicited. All opinions are entirely my own.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Call me crazy, but I wait until December to start my Christmas shopping. Who can even think about Christmas gifts in September when we haven’t yet had a flake of snow, or (even worse!) in July when thoughts should be turned to sun and sand? To really feel the spirit, I need the air brisk, lamp poles decorated with greens, and holiday muzak blaring. A little hustle and bustle never hurt anyone, she said blithely.

My favorite: Jane Eyre
My favorite: Jane Eyre

But what to buy the booklovers on your list when even bookstores seem to offer only to-be-expected booklights, book totes, and bookmarks with maybe a reading journal thrown in for good measure? I found two companies whose products sent me over the moon–and I can’t imagine the bibliophiles in your life wouldn’t be just as pleased as I was.

The first (and probably the easiest to order from for this holiday season since they’re based in the U.S.) is *Litographs. What’s unique about this company is that the graphics on their posters, totes, and T-shirts are created out of the actual text of the work. And it’s those T-shirts that caught my eye–as their website says, it may be “the best shirt I’ve ever worn”. How fun to have passages of my favorite Jane Eyre perched right on my shoulders and wrapped around my heart. Nothing more romantic than that!  The simple graphics reflect the titles which include famous works of British and American literature, as well as plays, poetry, mysteries–just

Yes, please, Louisa May Alcott!
Yes, please, Louisa May Alcott!

about every genre is represented. The process of making the T-shirts and prints is amazing; you can watch a video here. There’s even a pretty extensive line of temporary tatoos. Go figure! To make your shopping even more of a no-brainer, Litographs is a socially responsible company that partners with the International Book Bank, donating one book to a community in need for every shirt, tote, or print sold.

The other company I’ve loved browsing is *Bookishly. Because they’re located in England, shipping might take up to four weeks. (The website is very clear that “next day shipping” applies only to buyers in the U.K.) But  be sure to remember this site for the next gift-giving holiday or a birthday or anniversary or retirement or … okay, for me just about any event would be a good time to receive one of Bookishly’s goodies. This site features a wider range of products, including prints, jewelry, greeting cards, and journals. I’m not much for jewelry, and I don’t send much snail mail, but the prints really caught my eye. The quotations are printed on the pages of vintage books, usually titles that somehow compliment the quote. For instance, the quote by poet Sarah WIlliams “I have loved the stars too fondly” is printed on a page of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Jane Austen’s “You must be the best judge of your own happiness” from Emma is stamped on a page from the novel. Be still my beating heart! Each print comes framed, but “glass-free so you can really feel the old page.” (And get a whiff of that old book smell, too!)

While I’d usually say the best gift for the reader in your life is one of the books on their wishlist that they so kindly printed out for you, a gift from Litographs or Bookishly would be a close second–and a much more of a surprise under the tree.


*this post is not sponsored by either company, nor was my opinion solicited. I came across the products much like you do–surfing the net on a Saturday morning with coffee in hand. I share the links only because the products are unique and would make great gifts.

A favorite at Christmas: Christmas from the Heart of the Home (review)

The stockings are hung (although sadly, there’s no chimney), the candles lit, and creche arranged–it’s the most wonderful time of the year! And every year for the past twenty-something, I’ve added Susan Branch’s Christmas From the Heart of the Home to the stack of holiday books on my coffee table. Branch inks and watercolors every inch of every page so that reading her Heart of the Home books is like reading her journal.

The book is everything I want at Christmas: a little whimsy, a lotta charm, family and friends, and homey goodness. And it’s my favorite book  Christmas book for the home. This little gem has some great recipes, from appetizers (chicken pate and Christmas oysters, anyone?) to a traditionalfavorite Christmas book Christmas turkey (or goose if you’re brave enough!), along with delicious sweet goodies and holiday beverages (spiked and not).

One of my family Christmas cookie favorites is something we call butter nut balls. Branch’s Mary’s Mother’s Snowballs are similar–except that the dough is wrapped around a Hershey’s kiss. My daughter insisted we include these little treasures in our cookie baking next week. Eaten still slightly warm they are to die for. Seriously.

But Christmas From the Heart of the Home is much more than a recipe book. I find myself turning the pages of this favorite for ideas to Deck the Halls—lots of candles, garlands of pine, and Christmas trees everywhere (even the kitchen!). Or how about taping Christmas cards around a doorway (I do!). The pages dedicated to the Magic of Snow are probably best understood by those of us who live in northern climes (Branch on Martha’s Vineyard, me in the Great Lakes)—the greatest love-hate story of them all. And throughout, those family memories and traditions, all delightfully illustrated and painted to size.

Need a Christmas treat for yourself? Check out Susan Branch’s blog, store, and news about anything from the Heart of the Home. I, of course, especially love her books. I usually get myself a little somethin’ somethin’ after the holidays, and I think this year it will be Autumn From the Heart of the Home, because, let’s face it–after Christmas, northern Falls are the best. (Sadly, Christmas From the Heart of the Home is out-of-print, but I found plenty of copies on ebay)

So whether my Christmas is lean or lush (and it’s been both over the years, believe me) I can depend on Christmas From the Heart of the Home to reassure me that heart and home are truly what matter most.

Books for bitty babes

A little over a week ago I welcomed my first grandchild—little J gave his momma a run for her money, but he is (like any good Grammy would say!) the most perfect baby ever.

And just like I did with his IMG_1144 (1)momma and his uncles, I’ll be reading to him from the start. This English language of ours is beautiful and rhythmic, largely written and spoken in iambs, a rhythm that pulses through so much of what we hear—the da DUM of our heartbeat, the bah bo LINK of a backyard bird, the scritch HOP of a skip. Babies, listening to that rhythm in their water world for nine months, are finely tuned, I believe, to respond to iambs. And what better way to introduce them to our wide and wonderful world, but to cuddle them on our laps, snuggle them close, and read?

Which books are must-haves will change by age, but these are mine favorites for bitty babes. You’ll notice that there’s not a Disney book in the mix (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but if you want to choose books whose poetry and prose will sing to those little ears, these few will become a welcome chorus.  (And all are available as board books for tiny hands to touch) You can be sure at least a couple of these titles will show up under little J’s Christmas tree this year!

Goodnight Moon (by Margaret Wise Brown)

Pat the Bunny (by Dorothy Kunhardt)

Brown Bear Brown Bear what do you see? (by Eric Carle)

Each Peach Pear Plum (by Janet and Allan Ahlberg)

Let’s Play, Sleepy Time, and Babies—or any board book written and illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa