Our Books, Our Shelves

IMG_20190904_165951One of my fashion Bibles.

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Book Review: Little Book of Hygge-Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking

2016 was an immensely difficult year for me and so many others. And as 2017 rolls along I still feel a certain sadness personally, professionally and politically. And I’m not the only one. So it was truly a blessing to find Meik Wiking’s book The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living.

Hygge (pronounced “hue-guh”) is the concept of happiness, fulfillment, well-being, and contentment. Denmark is considered one of the happiest countries in the world, and Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen so needless to say, he knows what he is talking about.

And just what is hygge to Wiking and many of his fellow Danes? Well, a lot of it has to do with warmth and light, which is not surprising considering it can get pretty cold and dark in Denmark. Danes love their fireplaces and wearing comfy bulky sweaters. They also have a love of soft lighting from well-placed lamps and burning candles. Only the candles Danes prefer are unscented.

Danes also find hygge in togetherness, whether it’s with their families, friends or just their communities as a whole. Just connecting with a loving soul via actual human contact (not social media) can fill a Dane with contentment and joy.

One way Danes connect with through food and drink. Having tea or coffee with a cherished loved one is a great way to inspire hygge, and so is throwing a dinner party or having a potluck with friends. In The Little Book of Hygge Wiking generously shares some beloved recipes, which as a total foodie I can’t wait to try out. And I now for myself, one way I connect with others is through my love of baking (my sugar mint cookies should be declared a national treasure).

Here are few thing the Danes feel are hygge:

  • Holidays like Christmas
  • Board Games
  • Music
  • Books
  • Sundays
  • Pets
  • Television
  • Parties
  • Plants
  • Sports

I must say I agree with a lot of things on that list. I love to listen to music, and I often use it as a healing balm when I’m feeling a bit down. It’s no secret I love books (or else I wouldn’t have this blog). I love Sundays. I start off my Sundays watching one of my favorite TV programs CBS Sunday Morning, and then I head off to my church First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, where I am not only treated to a wonderful service, I also connect with a like-minded community. I adore my fur baby, Pokey Jones whose purrs and unconditional love fill me with hygge.

Other countries have their own concepts and words for hygge. Canadians call it hominess. In Norway it is called koselig. German’s call their concept of hygge (yes, Germans want to be happy, too) gemutlichkeit. What would I call hygge as an American? Well, I call it niceties.

Hygge is practiced all year around and Wiking mentions hygge for each Month. January is a great month for having movie nights. In March, you can have theme nights; my theme for the month of March? My birthday, of course! May is a great time for a week-end getaway to a cabin or maybe a lovely bed and breakfast place. Summer picnics are ideal in the month of July. Wiking inspires us to have soup cook-offs in November.

Hygge doesn’t have to be costly. Often they are free or very inexpensive. Wiking suggests making your own “Hygge Emergency Kit.” His suggestions for such a kit include candles, chocolate, your favorite tea, books, a collection of treasured hand-written letters, warm woolen sweaters, a notebook and pen, and music.

In the past few days I have been feeling sad with the state of our world and some personal issues I’m dealing with. But reading about hygge reminded me to think of good things that filled me with happiness and joy. The eclipse filled me with hygge, reminding how inspiring the galaxy can be and how one moment can fill the world with joy and wonderment. This morning I woke up to find a text and an IM from two friends, which lifted my spirits. I’m currently reading some good books. I made a fabulous meal last night. Heck, even a decent night’s sleep helped me feel hygge.

I truly loved The little Book of Hygge and am so grateful for Meik Wiking. This book and its ideas will inspire me for quite a long time. We should all feel and practice hygge.

 

 

 

Vintage by Susan Gloss

vintageDealing with a rough year, and a challenging summer of both professional and personal trials (not to mention allergies that are at def con levels), I thought I would escape into a fun bit of fluff via a chick lit novel. I picked up Vintage by Susan Gloss, charmed by the cover of a pretty dress in a shop window.

As a concept Vintage has a lot of potential. This is a book that tells the tale of three very dissimilar women. Violet is the owner of a Madison, Wisconsin-based vintage clothing shop called Hourglass (love the name). She escaped a bad first marriage to her high school boyfriend, Jed, and a stifling life in the small town of Bent Creek (fictional-looked it up). Always a lover of vintage clothing and accessories, Violet realizes her dream to sell vintage finds at Hourglass to the Madison locals.

April is 18-years-old and pregnant. She’s also been abandoned by her boyfriend who is off to medical school. A smart girl, and a math whiz, April has to put her college education on hold due to her pregnancy and her impending single motherhood. She is also dealing with the death of her mentally ill mother, who died in a car accident, which may have been a suicide.

And then there is Amithi, who immigrated to the United States from India after marrying her husband in an arranged marriage Naveen when she was still a teenager. She recently found out Naveen has been cheating on her for decades with a colleague. Amithi is also struggling with the idea of her daughter Jayana being married to a non-Indian man.

Violet first makes April’s acquaintance when April tries to a return wedding dress to Hourglass. Violet has a strict policy when it comes to returning items to her shop. But despite that she takes some pity on April, being pregnant, abandoned by her boyfriend, rejected by her boyfriend’s parents, college plans that are put on hold and now without a mother. Through a wee bit of maneuvering, Violet agrees to hire April on as an intern to help her gain some college credits. April is a whiz when it comes to numbers, and she helps organize Hourglass’s financial and accounting matters. Even though Violet is not yet forty, she seems a bit out of sorts when it comes to any organizing that requires a computer and an Excel spreadsheet.

Amithi becomes Violet’s friend when she comes into Hourglass to sell a sari she wore when she married Naveen in 1968. Her marriage now in tatters due to Naveen’s betrayal and infidelity, Amithi has no need for a silk orange colored sari to remind her of her wedding day. She’s also sick of her daughter sticking her nose in her and Naveen’s business, and just wants to move on, not knowing who she is beyond being a devoted wife and mother. However, Amithi does have a skill that helps her bond with Violet. She is a talented seamstress and soon she is helping Violet with some of her vintage items that need some TLC. Doing something she loves and excels at, helps Amithi feel useful and helps her cope with the of her marriage.

And with these three characters, Vintage started out a promising read…but it soon fell flat and became just standard-issue chick lit that failed to inspire and entice me as a reader. These included banalities like Violet obsession with her biological clock and dating life. There is April’s ex-boyfriend swooping back into her life at just the right time to rescue her from becoming a single mom. And then there is Violet’s ex-husband oozing back into her life, just as she sparks up a relationship with a new man. And then there are Violet’s friends, Karen and Lane, giving up their careers in law and show biz respectively for soccer mom suburbia. There is an evil landlord who threatens the fate of Hourglass, but thank goodness for a rich benefactor whose death pretty much saves the fate of Hourglass. And I’d be remiss not to mention a clichéd story-line of a fashion show featuring drag queens and a single declaration of love.

Only Amithi didn’t come across as a total cliché. And I think a novel focused on Amithi and the choices she makes in the wake of her busted marriage would be so much more interesting.

However, Vintage isn’t a complete mess. Gloss is a talented writer, with a gift for writing sincere dialogue that made the three women real to me even though I found them a bit too clichéd. Gloss also has a wonderful way of describing people, places and things that made them truly come to life. She captures Madison perfectly. And I also could actually see the Hourglass’s layout in my mind’s eye. I also loved how each chapter began with a brief description of various vintage finds including not only April’s wedding dress and Amithi’s sari, but 1980s power suit, complete with shoulder pads, Frye boots from the 1970s, an apron from the 1950s and a sweet little baby bonnet from the 1940s.

For the most part, Vintage was just a fun, inoffensive book, fully adequate for lazy dog days of summer. I just wish it wrapped up in way that was more classic Chanel suit and not a pilled acrylic sweater.

 

Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann

AstorPlaceVintage-thumb-300x458-5429Modern women are glad to live in a time of equal opportunities, the right to vote, education and careers that eluded our fore mothers, and the ability to make our own decisions whether they are financial, sexual or professional. Yet, sometimes we look to the past with a bit of yearning. Hence, the popularity of television shows like “Downton Abbey.” Just what was it like to live nearly a century ago?

Amanda Rosenbloom is about to find out…

As Stephanie Lehmann’s book Astor Place Vintage opens, Amanda Rosenbloom is meeting with Jane Kelly. Jane Kelly is 98-years-old, in ill health, and has several vintage for clothing items for sale that she has placed in a trunk. Amanda is the proprietor of Astor Place Vintage, a boutique located in Manhattan featuring decades of amazing vintage fashions.

Amanda finds a lot of glorious treasures in Mrs. Kelly’s trunk, but the most surprising treasure is a diary from 1907 found in the lining of a fur muff. The diary belongs to one twenty-year-old Olive Westcott, a woman very much of her time. Yet, she is also filled with ambitions and desires that wouldn’t seem out of place in our modern age.

Amanda can’t help but read Olive’s diary. And while she’s getting sucked into the past, she also is dealing with some very unyielding present-day problems. Professionally, Amanda is struggling to keep Astor Place Vintage afloat. And her landlord just informed her that the lease on her boutique will not be renewed. Amanda has to come up with the money to find a new place or go out of business.

Personally, Amanda is closing in on turning forty both single and childless, which has her quite disheartened. She’s also having an affair with her very married high school sweetheart who helps her out financially. And to top it off, Amanda is also coping with killer insomnia. Olive’s diary is a means of escape and in a way, therapy.

As Olive’s diary commences, we find out she has just moved to Manhattan with her father who has been hired to manage a Woolworth’s on 34th Street. Compared to other women of the time, Olive has quite a few luxuries. She lives in a refined home and though not college-educated, she did attend finishing school. However, Olive knows what it’s like to suffer tragedy. Her mother died giving birth to her. She also seems hopelessly naïve for a grown woman. She’s never been kissed and she’s woefully uninformed about the basics of her own female anatomy.

However, Olive desires to have a career of her own. She wants to be a store buyer. But working is for low class girls, not well-heeled young ladies like Olive.

Olive’s life soon takes an unforeseen turn when her father dies unexpectedly. Olive is totally on her own and needs a job to survive. She gets a job as a shop girl at a department store. At her job Olive tries to stake her claim as an ambitious and resourceful young woman and also befriends her co-worker, Angelina. Angelina experiences as the child of poor Italian immigrants is quite different from Olive’s upper-class, WASPy upbringing. And Angelina is also having a scandalous affair with a man who helps her financially.

Olive is shocked by Angelina having sexual relations without a ring on her finger. But she also values Angelina’s kindness and support. Olive is also oddly attracted to Angelina’s brother, Joe, who is a bit of a dastardly rake (man whore). Will Olive deny her growing desires or will her bloomers stay firmly in place?

Meanwhile, in the modern day, Amanda is coming grips with her own issues. She knows it’s up to her to make the important changes to transform her life both professionally and personally. Will she find a way to keep Astor Place Vintage in business? Will she give her married lover the big heave-ho? Will she actually get a good night’s sleep? With Olive’s diary as guide (and her own modern girl smarts), maybe Amanda will. This diary might also give Amanda a clue on how Jane Kelly is connected to Olive.

I’m not always a fan of chick lit. I find most chick lit trite and formulaic, but Lehmann’s Astor Place Vintage is the thinking girl’s chick lit. I loved how the ending was not wrapped up in a pretty bow, which made me wonder how both Amanda and Olive’s lives might play out. The ending is totally left up to the reader’s imagination.

I also loved how Lehmann conveyed two characters that are very relatable and multi-dimensional. Sure, Amanda probably shouldn’t be having an affair. And I found Olive’s snobbery a bit off-putting at times. However, Amanda and Olive’s flaws made just made them more real to me.

Furthermore, Lehmann does a tremendous job of showing, not telling. I could actually envision the vintage fashions Lehman lovingly describes and I also appreciated how she brought New York City fully-alive, whether commenting on the foul tenements of 1907 or Jane Kelly’s tasteful apartment. Furthermore, the photos interspersed in Astor Place Vintage of New York City at the helm of the twentieth-century are a delightful bonus.

Ultimately for me, Astor Place Vintage is as satisfying as finding a gorgeous cashmere sweater for only ten bucks at my favorite vintage clothing boutique. I highly recommend it.