Home and Family in Literature and Life

Do we ever really think about what first piques our interest in a particular subject? Whether it’s history or science or literature or society or food, we tend to generalize our initial interest in a topic or hobby – “it was in my early 20s” or “sometime in my youth” or “when I heard about it from a friend.” But do we really think through the very thing that truly led us to want to learn more, do more, and find more out about something that intrigued us? And do we stop to wonder why?

So you like military history; okay, what was it that first attracted you to it? Why? Was it because you have a personal connection to it, through your own experiences or via a family member or friend, or is it because of a particular incident in history that calls out to more strongly than others? Or say that you really got into sculpting. Is there a specific work or artist that inspired you? A reason you wanted to sit down and build something with your hands?

As I’ve spent the last two and a half years exploring what I want to do with my life and reflecting on my various interests and hobbies, I’ve noticed a few recurring themes and connections. I’ve especially noticed this when I think about my favorite books, authors, and stories over the years.

Jane Austen. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Lucy Maud Montgomery. Louisa May Alcott. Ginny Dye. Jan Karon.

Okay, they are all women writers. And with the exception of Karon’s Mitford series, they all wrote in or write about times past; “period” literature, as some may call it. We’ve got the Edwardian era, Civil War and beyond, pioneer times, and turn of the century and WWI. But it’s more than that – a lot more than that, I’ve recently realized. In all of these authors works, there is one thing that stands out loud and clear, when I really think about it: the importance of home and family.

It’s kind of an aha moment; these are two of the most important things in my own life, and two of the things I most enjoy writing about myself. A coincidence? Likely not.

As Janeites know all too well, Austen’s novels aren’t exactly filled with adventure and crazy plot twists. She used everyday happenings and personal dramas from the family home and that of close neighbors and friends to create witty, romantic, and realistic stories of life in Regency England. Laura Ingalls Wilder shared the mundane and sometimes frightening details of prairie life, as her family moved from house to house to house, but always making it home. Montgomery’s series about a lovable red-headed, precocious orphan girl named Anne who was adopted by an elderly couple on Canada’s Prince Edward Island is all about family and home. Alcott’s Little Women is based on her own family and their struggles in the mid-1800s New England, and her other books all have a strong sense of family, centering on spirited, smart, and self-reliant young women. Karon’s series about a small-town pastor shows us the comical, joyful, and sometimes sad lives of Father Tim and his friends in the quaint town of Mitford. And Ginny Dye’s historical fiction series, The Bregdan Chronicles, features an entire cast of fiercely loyal, passionate, and ambitious family members and friends – black and white, former slaves and masters – that continue to call a Virginia plantation home base even after the Civil War has ended.

I’d be silly to not also notice that all of these authors’ works intrigue me because of their portrayals of resilient, independent, ambitious, and compassionate women, with a drive to do something more and be something more in their world (in the Mitford series, this comes through with Father Tim’s wife, Cynthia). While they are all extremely devoted to their families and to creating a sense of home, wherever they are, they also feel a calling to explore beyond their boundaries — both physical, and the ones placed on them by society because they are women.

In Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet knows she must marry, but she is not about to settle for the first man that shows her attention or that her mother sends her way. It takes time of course, but ultimately she chooses a man that will make her happy as well as comfortable, and all the while, she’s pushing for her sisters and friends to make their own choices as well. In Little Women, Jo March leaves home and an opportunity to marry her best friend to become a writer, and ends up meeting an older man who challenges her mind as well as her heart. And in The Bregdan Chronicles, Carrie Cromwell fights convention and risks her life by first freeing her father’s slaves, then by attending a women’s medical college up north, leaving her husband, family, and friends behind (temporarily).

These themes, which often fight against one another as much as they work together, have come up often in my own life – especially so in the last couple of years. My intense desire to be independent, to explore the world around me, and to pursue my passions keeps my mind and my heart constantly churning, constantly looking for what’s next and how to get there. Yet at the same time, I’m pulled home, to my parents, to my family in Louisiana, to a stable and comforting environment that brings me joy and peace. I yearn for a companion and prefer structure and routine, yet feel I am meant to do more and be more – for myself, if not for anyone else. I don’t like feeling stuck, yet I stick to safe routines and lifestyles because it’s easier, or less intimidating. Finding the balance is what I keep coming back to – what IS the balance? What IS the combination of home and family and a life of adventure and exploration that I’m looking for, and how do I find it?

For now, I’ll keep reading and continue learning. Perhaps some of the answers will come from the authors and characters that I’ve loved for so many years.

Have you noticed any themes in your favorite books from over the years that go deeper than genre? Are they relevant to your own life?

From Laura Ingalls and Alicia Florrick to Elizabeth II: literary and historical women as role models

The more time I spend reading, writing, volunteering at the library, and exploring what I want to do with my life, the more I’ve learned that what I read and who I read about has influenced who I am and who I want to be. While I love Dickens, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and Shakespeare, my heart is with Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Lucy M Montgomery, and Jane Austen. Half Pint (Laura), Jo March, Anne Shirley, and Elizabeth Bennett are some of the strongest, imaginative, passionate, and soulful characters in literature – determining their place and path in life while remaining devoted to family, friends, and love. In history, I nerd out over the family wars and power struggles during the times of Henry VIII and Richard III, but it’s the reformations and revolutions and sea changes that Anne Boleyn, Katherine Woodville, and Elizabeth II brought about despite the opposition that really resonate with me.

Even when I think about the TV shows and movies I enjoy, it comes back to the women. Sure, Mad Men’s Don Draper is a fascinating look at the flawed man, but Peggy, Joan, and young Sally Draper are prime examples of women finding their way in a world dominated by the opposite sex. And while the Earl of Grantham may hold the keys to Downton Abbey, Ladies Cora, Mary, Edith (yes, even Edith!), Sybil, and Rose, and servants Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, and Anna set the stage for the changing role of women in the first half of the 20th century. On The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick adapts to and then owns her circumstances, making us question what “good” really means. And in Game of Thrones, perhaps the most exciting character development lies with Daenyrus Targaryen, Sansa and Arya Stark, and (begrudgingly) Cersei Lannister.

When I was younger, I may have thought that I just liked that Laura Ingalls got to help her Pa make hay and then go buggy-riding with Almanzo. I may have been jealous of Anne Shirley’s red hair and her smart and witty friend and future husband, Gilbert. But what I think was really going on was that I admired their fiery spirit, their continued desire to learn and explore, and their fierce loyalty to home, family, and self. One of my favorite book series is one that centers on how a young white woman and her (later freed) slave and best friend get through the Civil War and years afterward, both dealing with their own set of obstacles, but both also remaining adamant about who they are and how to fulfill their dreams. Dare I say that these are the very reasons I have had a lifelong love affair with The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz? Beyond the singing and the rainbows and ruby slippers, these are also the stories of women and girls who overcome their fears – of the unknown, of the world beyond their doorstep, of those who challenge their beliefs – and take a journey to find their calling, or to find what matters most, even if it is right in their own backyard.

There are many out there that have applauded the arrival of newer young female “heroines” and role models in literature, such as The Hunger Games’ Katniss or Divergent’s Tris. While I support new stories and inspiring characters, we weren’t lacking in the first place. Stories of females fighting back against societal pressures and life’s ups and downs and tragedies is nothing new – all you have to do is pick up the Little House series, The Diary of Anne Frank, or Little Women. A 16-year-old pioneer girl braving her first teaching assignment in the middle of nowhere sounds pretty brave to me. So does the story of a young girl hiding from the Nazis in an attic, and another of a young woman cutting off her hair and secretly writing stories under a pen name to provide for her family.

This is no great epiphany of course. We read what we like, and we read (and watch) what connects to us, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. And as I continue to determine my next steps and explore who I am beneath the surface, I’ll keep in mind my heroines from the page, screen, and history, that I have loved from the first moment I met them.

Who are your heroines from books, tv or film, or history? Why?

Blog Love: The Liebster Award

Liebester AwardI’m not a chain letter kind of gal. Nor do I copy and post those silly status updates on Facebook that I see cluttering up my feed about anything and everything (“Pass it on so we know if you’re a real friend!”). But, I am about recognizing other bloggers, other women who are living life to the fullest, and helping a girl out with some online love. So when Michelle of Hey Love Designs passed The Liebster Award on to me, I agreed to pass it on to others. Michelle, like many other people I have connected with via social media, is still only a virtual friend, but here’s why I like her: she participated in my snail mail project with Leslie, she makes gorgeous paper products, and totally owns who she is — a pole-dancing, dog-loving, font-obsessed entrepreneur. And she just seems happy, which is tops in my book. So thanks Michelle for recognizing Lagniappe.

Here’s how this whole Liebster Award thing works:

1. Link to the blogger that nominated your blog.
2. Answer the 11 questions they asked. (see below)
3. List 11 facts about yourself. (see below)
4. Nominate 5 blogs with less than 3000 followers. (or how about I just pick some faves)
5. Ask 11 new questions which these 5 bloggers will answer (optional, I won’t be offended if you don’t!)

(P.S. It should be no surprise that I love the 11 things/11 questions theme. See why here.)

Here goes…

11 Questions for Me:

1.  What show do you love right now? Since some of my favorites are not in season right now, it’s got to be Scandal. It’s so ridiculous and dramatic, but I love it.
2.  What’s your favorite season and why? Without a doubt, fall. Football, Thanksgiving, my birthday, fall foods, hoodies, the leaves. It’s just got it all.
3.  If you could trade lives with any celebrity, who would it be? Hmm, I don’t know that I want the celeb life. Does Terry Gross count? She interviews some pretty awesome people on Fresh Air (NPR).
4.  Would you rather live in a small home in a city or a large home in the country? Now that I’ve done both? I think the city, for this life phase (as I sit on a 4-acre property in the middle of wine country and write this), but I could see myself retiring in the country. Who knows. They both have their pros and cons.
5.  Are leggings pants? No. I’m probably in the minority for saying that. I don’t do leggings.
6.  What is your favorite outdoor activity? I’m a runner, so that’s first, but after that…I love standup paddleboarding now! (SUPing)
7.  If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, and money and time were not an issue, where would you go? I’m trying to check off my must-visit places, and now that I’ve covered some in the top of the list, the biggest one left for me is London. I’m a huge British history and lit buff, so I’ve been dying to go to England for years.
8.  What’s a fun childhood memory that most people don’t know?  I share a lot of memories, so let’s see what’s left… when I was a little girl, my neighbors and their four kids would babysit me all the time. I became one of the family. Their youngest son, Jimmy, would be Johnny Castle and I would be Baby and I would run down the hallway and we would do the lift, Dirty Dancing style. It went on for years, until I was too big for him to lift me anymore.
9.  Every time you hear this song, you can’t help but sing it at the top of your lungs. Name that song! Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, by The Temptations.
10.  Live to eat or eat to live? Ummm… it depends?
11.  What’s your favorite Disney movie? Is it possible to have a four-way tie? The Lion King, Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland, and Lady and the Tramp. I suppose it could go in that order if I’m really forced to pick.

shrimp poboy

11 Facts About Me

1.  I had imaginary friends named Patty, Marcus, and Stephanie. That’s what only children do, I guess.
2.  My parents gave me a dictionary for my 7th birthday. I read it front and back, and it’s still on my shelf today.
3.  I always ask for Andes mints in my stocking at Christmas. But while my parents share their candy, I hoard mine.
4.  I still do not know how to blow a bubble with bubblegum. It sucks.
5.  I was in a community performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in middle school. I still remember the entire soundtrack.
6.  I hate feet. I don’t even like people touching me with socks on. I also don’t like ketchup leftover on a plate or dipping into someone else’s. It weirds me out.
7.  I don’t consider a visit home to Louisiana complete without having a shrimp poboy.
8.  I didn’t have my first kiss until a month before I turned 18, as a senior in high school. It was on my driveway when my date dropped me off after the Homecoming dance.
9.  I volunteered at a nursing home for two summers before high school, and me and the other kids were featured in the newspaper. I met some of the most amazing, memorable people there.
10.  I’ve never broken a bone and I’ve never been to a movie alone.
11.  I was a tour guide in college.

My Blog Picks

1. Leslie Farnsworth
2. QueSarah
3. From East to West
4. Live & Lavergne
5. On a Pink Typewriter

Next Round of Questions

1.  If you could be a character on any classic TV show, who would you be?
2.  Jeans or a Dress?
3.  If you could relive any moment from your past, what it would be and why?
4.  What’s your favorite quality about your mom/dad/both?
5.  What book from childhood did you read again and again?
6.  If you were on The Amazing Race, who would you pick to be your partner?
7.  Who would you write a letter to, if you knew they would write back? Famous or not. Dead or alive.
8.  What song reminds you of your childhood?
9.  Would you rather redecorate and redesign your kitchen, or your bedroom?
10. What’s the best quality in the man/boy who means the most to you?
11. What’s one thing you wish you could have told your 18-year-old self?

So that’s it, folks. Let’s see what happens!