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.

The Beauty of What Remains (review)

The Beauty of What Remains (NetGalley)
Susan Johnson Hadler
She Writes Press

Writer Susan Johnson Hadler’s father died in WWII when she was only three months old.  Because he was killed in a mine explosion, there were no remains to inter and his wife was sent only his personal effects: socks, glasses, a sewing kit, a few snapshots, a bible, and $38.67.  Hadler’s mother remarried a few years later, and the three-year-old was folded into a new family that had, it seemed, no room for her father’s memory. But Hadler always wondered about him, in part because the welcome letter he had written when she was born was taped inside her baby book. Full of his love for her mother and hopes for her future, the letter was something at least–but not enough.

In her twenties, Hadler dared approach the subject of her dad. “What was he like?” she asked her mother. Put the past behind you, her mother implied–“You have everything you’ve ever needed.” The past is the past. Except for Hadler, it wasn’t.

And so when she’s nearly fifty, Hadler begins to unravel her father’s story. She gets a copy of her father’s war records, contacts some of the The Beauty of What Remainsmen he served with, attends a reunion of the 782nd tank battalion, and finally travels to Mechernich, Germany with her husband to put all the pieces together. They stand in the woods where he died and take in the countryside he saw in his last days and weeks.

David Johnson was a “fine gentleman, good officer.” He was “firm” with the men under his command. David Johnson was “lighthearted, carefree. Nothing bothered him.” Her father was “a quiet man. Kind. Respected.” A good man.

Even Hadley’s mother begins to open up a bit about their brief life together. How the couple was the first of their friends to marry, how their friends gathered at their apartment before leaving for the war, how angry she was at his death. But Hadley also heard love in her voice, the love that became her.

Hadley petitioned and received a memorial marker for her father in Arlington Cemetary, where the family gathered for a brief ceremony, and she wrote about her experiences in an article titled “Finding My Father” in the Washingtonian Magazine.  And with that, the family wagons circled around Hadley’s mother who felt as though her privacy had been violated.

Shuffling through all those family photos also led Hadley to finding her mother’s estranged sisters: Dorothy, a lively octogenarian who lived in Brooklyn, New York; and Elinor, sent away in her twenties to a mental hospital, and … well, you’ll just have to get a copy of The Beauty of What Remains to turn that page in Hadley’s family album.

I think what appealed to me most about this memoir was the author’s navigation of all things family. Navigating the waters of family secrets and wading through repressed memories, Hadley speaks her truth–painfully, cautiously, but always honestly.

The Beauty of What Remains is a beautiful story, compellingly told.

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.

Do you reread?

My son has read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series multiple times. And I mean multiple multiple times. It’s like comfort-food reading for him. Familiar and warm. (Kind of odd to put King in the ‘comfort’ category, isn’t it?!)

Me, not so much. I have never been one to turn back to a novel after I’ve enjoyed it on the first read-through, not even my favorites. Maybe that’s because the last book I read is usually my “favorite”–until I open the next. (I seem to have pretty good radar for books–or I’m incredibly indiscriminent–so for a moment my read-of-the-week is the best book ever.)

Our shelves house hundreds upon hundreds of books because I like need to own my books and once they’re mine I can’t bear to part with them. It’s something akin to a mother’s love, I think–they become my offspring. Now it would save me a bundle of money if I did reread and I have this wild and crazy plan that when I retire, I’ll start at the top left hand shelf of the first bookcase and go right through to the end, rereading every last one of those lil’ darlings.

We’ll see how that goes.

I will confess, though, that there are two books I’ve read more than once–maybe three times or four? One is my favorite classic of all times, Jane Eyre. I read her first time around in high school when I was hungry for gothic romance. And what sixteen-year-old isn’t? Truthfully I think I have a little bit of Jane in me, so reading her comes as naturally as living–except that, no, my husband doesn’t have a crazy woman hidden in the attic. I don’t think. (I always skip the part where she lives at Marsh End, though–too much wholesome living and not enough romance for my tastes.) miss pickthorn and mr. hareBut Jane Eyre, classic that she is, seems like pretty standard rereading material.

My other reread is a lot more obscure: May Sarton’s Miss Pickthorn and Mr. Hare. A family friend gifted me the novel when I was in high school. It’s a rather odd choice for a teenage girl, I think, but I loved it then as I love it forty years later. Miss Pickthorn, retired Latin teacher, lives a solitary life in her tidy little cottage with its neat little woodpile and warm stove and letter writing in the afternoon. Mr. Trumbull Hare is a hobo who has taken up residence in the henhouse across the road–a ne’er-do-well who needs to be taken in hand. And so begins a sweet fable of friendship found and lost.

So I guess I do reread after all … I think it helps me remember who I was when.

Short and sweet: Six Word Memoirs

IMG_2413 IMG_2412 Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s shortest short story ever—For Sale: baby shoes, never worn—Six Word Memoirs were born nearly ten years ago.  Publisher Larry Smith is their papa. Since then, Smith Magazine and media from The Colbert Report to NPR to The New Yorker to O! have published the little gems. Everyone, it seems, wants to tell their story in a mere six words. Steven Colbert’s? (Well, I thought it was funny.) Writer Amy Tan’s? (Former boss: writing’s your worst skill) There’s even an app and you can find them everywhere.

IMG_2416Even on the wall in my classroom.IMG_2415

This year I decided that each week we’ll devote one entire hour to reading (“You mean we read for the whole hour?!) and one day to writing. So the first week of school, SWMs seemed like a good place to start. I gave a short explanation of the process, shared with the kids one I wrote (It wasn’t always happily ever after), and let them loose. They drafted, shared their memoirs with classmates, and then chose their favorite to post anonymously on the wall.

The memoirs cover everything from the prosaic to the sublime. The kids wrote about their family, their pain, their dreams … and they just might be my favorite student writing of all time.

Try writing yours.