{Gift Guide} 7 books to wrap up this holiday season

Can’t get a read on what your friends and family want for the holidays? Here’s the ultimate list of books to GIVE this holiday season brought to you by FOF book critic Linda Wolfe, the award-winning author of 10 books and a 12-year veteran of the National Book Critics Circle.

Then comment below for a chance to RECEIVE one of Linda’s top picks–“Then Again,” Diane Keaton’s new memoir. (Three FOFs will win.)


“Then Again” by Diane Keaton. Random House. 291 pages

Keaton’s memoir, “Then Again,” is not just her story, it’s her mother’s as well. Dorothy Keaton Hall, who died at the age of eighty-six, left behind her eighty-five journals and scrapbooks that Keaton never bothered to read while her mother was alive. But in 2008, after her mother’s death, she began ploughing through them, in the process discovering things about her mother she never knew – among them her mother’s thwarted ambitions and her early fear of memory loss.

Keaton uses Dorothy’s diaries as a scaffolding from which to explore and recount her own life: her girlhood insecurities and her adult strengths, her stunning career, her love affairs with Woody Allen, Al Pacino and Warren Beatty, and her late-in-life realization that despite the persona she’d cultivated as a woman who, like Garbo, preferred being alone, her life felt empty without children. At the age of 50, she adopted two of them, and became as engaged a mother as her own had been.

The book is a bit scattered – as one might expect a book of Keaton’s to be – with hasty entries and more thoughtful ones, reflections that are to the point, and others that are vague and puzzling. It’s really rather like a scrapbook itself, a collection of observations, reflections, and images, rather than a straightforward memoir. But it’s charming, just like its author. We learn that this famous beauty was so critical of her body that she became bulimic, stuffing herself with favorite foods only to void them right after consumption. It’s also poignant. We learn how sad it makes Keaton feel to consider the difference between her own life and that of her mother: starting in her fifties, after her children grew up and left her with an empty nest, Dorothy endured years of loneliness, whereas Keaton in her fifties has been able to come “out of isolation into a kind of family-of-man scenario, complete with an extended family, new friends and much needed ordinary activities.”
The book is an homage to her mother, a tribute to her own children, and an affirmation of woman’s ability to keep growing throughout life.

“Bossypants” by Tina Fey. Little Brown, 277 pp.

Tina Fey, creator and star of TV’s “30 Rock” and former head writer and occasional star on “Saturday Night Live,” has written not a memoir, exactly, but a collection of chronological essays about important periods of her life – including the one where she gets her first period. Her mother gives her a starter’s kit: some sanitary napkins, panty liners, and two pamphlets, one for a girl to read, the other for her mother to read and discuss with her. That 10-year-old Fey’s mother hasn’t bothered to read her pamphlet but just turned it over to her daughter isn’t half the fun here; what’s funnier is that Fey remains totally unprepared for her first bleed, and doesn’t even recognize what is happening to her when her underthings turn red. “I knew from commercials that one’s menstrual period was a blue liquid you poured like laundry detergent onto maxi pads to test their absorbency,” she writes. This wasn’t blue, so…I ignored it for a few hours.”

If you don’t find this funny, you’d best stop reading. Period. (Pun intended.)
The book contains Nora Ephron-like tips for women entering the male-controlled work world: “No pigtails. No tube tops.” And “You’re not in competition with other women; you’re in competition with everyone.” Of interviewing for a job on “Saturday Night Live,” Fey writes, “Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.” Of going to college at the University of Virginia, “I spent four years attempting to charm the uninterested.” Of turning forty, “I need to take my pants off as soon as I get home. I didn’t used to have to do that. But now I do.” Of doing a photo shoot, “The makeup artist will work methodically on your eyelids with a series of tickly little brushes for a hundred minutes,” and “at really fancy shoots, a celebrity fecalist will study your bowel movements and adjust your humours.”

If you don’t love Fey, I’d say you don’t have a sense of humor, let alone good bodily semifluids.


“The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides. FSG, 406 pp.

Like a Jane Austen novel written for our own times, the plot of Eugenides’ engaging new book, “The Marriage Plot,” concerns a young woman, her suitors, and her quest for a lifelong partner. But our world is a far more confusing one than the marriage-means-happy-ending society inhabited by Emma and Elizabeth and Austen’s other heroines. Finding one’s way in it is far from simple, and Eugenides’ heroine, Madeleine, as well as her two suitors, Leonard and Mitchell, are having a hard time when the book begins and the three of them, students at Brown in 1982, are about to graduate.

Madeleine, a literature student who’s pretty, rich, and sexually-inquisitive, is desperately in love with Leonard, a brilliant but bipolar science student who initiates her into physical intimacy but can’t quite commit to their relationship. And Mitchell, fascinated by religion and philosophy, is in love with Madeleine, who couldn’t care less.

After they graduate, Madeleine, unsure of what kind of career to pursue, flounders. Leonard learns that brilliance isn’t enough, and Mitchell, searching for life’s deeper meanings by working with Mother Teresa in India, loses his youthful idealism. I won’t tell you who Madeleine ends up with, but, without giving away too much, I want to say that despite having known a few manic-depressives and read a great deal about that illness, the way Eugenides shows us the awful progression of the disease beats any rendition I’ve ever read in fiction. Equally special is his satirical take on the absurd literary theories in vogue in the eighties.

Witty and moving, this book about love, sex, and coming of age, gets being young in the eighties altogether right. And I suspect it’s pretty accurate about the pleasures and problems of being young in any decade.

“State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett. Harper/HarperCollins. 353 pages.

I reviewed this book at length earlier this year, so I’ll be brief and just say here that if I had to tell you my choice for the “Number One Best Book of 2011,” it’d be “Age of Wonder.” With more than a touch of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” this book is a stirring evocation of a primitive world, a mystery tale, and a deft exploration of the character of two brilliant women. In the depths of the Amazon, the heroine, self-effacing Dr. Marina Singh, must discover the secrets that the imposing Dr. Annick Swenson, a one-time mentor of hers, is hiding from the rest of the world. She also must learn how to live and even thrive in barbarous surroundings, and become psychologically strong enough to defy her teacher.

You’ll be with Marina, learning her thoughts as if inside her head and experiencing her alien surroundings with her distinctive eyes and ears, throughout this stunning tale.

11/22/63 by Stephen King. Scribner. 849 pp.

I’m not a fan of horror stories, don’t like reading about cars with minds of their own, killer viruses or crazed fans, so I rarely read King. But this book is about horror of a different sort–and it’s terrific. The horror in “11/22/63” is time, an adversary that each of us must do battle with, and which always, whatever our circumstances, defeats us, taking away our abilities, our strengths, and all that we most prize.

A science fiction tale with that hoary old subject, time travel, “11/22/63” recounts the experiences of a Maine schoolteacher, Jake Epping, who goes back into the world of the late nineteen-fifties bent on a mission: to stop Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy. King recreates that world with meticulous and delightful detail, from the vibrant preservative-free taste of root beer, to 19.9 cents-a-gallon gasoline, to music you could really dance to. But the past has its drawbacks. “It’s a time,” King points out, “for which a lot of people felt nostalgic. Possibly because they had forgotten how bad the past smelled.”
Not only does the past smell bad, it’s rife with poverty and racial strife. Yet the good-natured Epping begins to prefer the past, with all its unsavoriness, to his actual present. He takes a job as teacher in a small Texas town, gets to know the Oswald family and–this will delight conspiracy theorists–tries to determine if Oswald was the only person responsible for Kennedy’s death. He also falls passionately in love with the school librarian.

King has bigger fish to fry in this work than in most of his other novels. The book has a gripping plot and a likeable hero in pursuit of an ominous killer, but the author is also in pursuit of the answers to the Big Questions: Would today’s world be different if Kennedy had not been killed? Is there any way to slow time’s indifference to human life? Is love the only thing that makes life worth living? And, is loss always our inevitable fate?


“Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman” by Robert K. Massie, Random House, 625 pages

Despite its heft, this doorstopper of a biography goes down as smooth as fine Beluga caviar. It’s the story of Catherine the Great, an obscure German princess who deposed her ineffectual alcoholic husband, Czar Peter III, in 1762, seized the throne of Russia, and ended up ruling that vast turbulent country for more than thirty years.

In Massie’s hands, the start of the story has all the elements of a fairy tale: a child scorned by her mother, plucked from obscurity by a kindly aunt (who just happened to be the daughter of the czar of Russia), decked out by that fairy godmother of a relative in furs and jewels, and married amid wild celebration to the future czar. “An adolescent girl,” Massie tells us, “was launched on a great adventure.”

But of course, Catherine was no fairy tale princess. And her story becomes ever more interesting as she learns to be a ruler, finding her way to gain and hold onto power despite constant threats. A quick study, she had taught herself at an early age was always to appear courteous and humble, to be a good listener, and to mask her considerable brains. But as she matured, her brilliance became evident to all who knew her, evoking respect even from such luminaries as Voltaire and Diderot. “I would say about myself,” she wrote in “A Secret Confession,” a private account of her life and loves, “that I was a true gentleman with a mind more male than female.”

Catherine reformed and reorganized Russia, she encouraged the arts, education and medical care, put down powerful rebellions, survived innumerable political crises and–somewhat ruthlessly–accomplished several land grabs that greatly extended Russia’s territory. But, aside from being an astute monarch, she was above all a woman, endlessly looking for the love she had been denied by her mother and lacked in her marriage–her husband had refused to make love to her during their nine years together. She said she was “Loath to be without love for even a single hour,” took numerous lovers, and wrote to one of them, “If you want to keep me forever, then show me as much friendship as love.”
Massie’s Catherine is not only a political genius, but a flesh-and-blood woman who at times sounds just like one’s BFF.

“1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created” by Charles C. Mann. Knopf 535 pp.

Charles C. Mann’s best-selling “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” was a sweeping examination of life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. His “1493” takes up the story of what followed: the vast spread of plants and peoples that is known as the “Columbian Exchange.” “After 1492,” Mann explains, “the world’s ecosystems collided and mixed as European vessels carried thousands of species to new homes across the oceans. The Columbian Exchange…is why there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in Florida, chocolates in Swtizerland, and chili peppers in Turkey and Thailand. To ecologists [it] is arguably the most important event since the death of the dinosaurs.”

Indeed, Mann tells us, it has created an altogether new ecological era, the “Homogenocene” or the Age of Homogeneity, the era in which we live, although most of us just call it “Globalization.” Undeniably, we have become One World, where what happens in Greece affects our stock market, what happens in China effects our manufacturing, what happens in Africa affects our hospitals. But the process, so recent-seeming, started ‘way back then, immediately after Columbus’s history-altering discovery.

The Columbian Exchange has vastly benefited mankind, spreading foods that not only delighted, like those tomatoes and oranges, but foods that filled hungry bellies, like wheat and corn. Nevertheless, benefit and detriment are the two faces of the Exchange’s coin. Take the exchange of plants: along with its beneficence it brought pests never before known in the West and mighty difficult to eliminate. Or take the spread of peoples: the European settlers who descended on the ancient native populations destroyed them both actively and inadvertently–inadvertently because they brought with them diseases for which these populations had no resistance. Today, it is Western society that is threatened by diseases for which we have no resistance, viruses transferred from monkeys to man in Africa and then brought–by plane–to new shores.

Mann, an extremely lively writer, gives us fascinating portraits of some of the little known figures responsible for the spread of specific plants, animals, people and germs. And he warns us about the most frightening consequences of the Columbian Exchange–not just the spread of diseases, but climate change and the destruction of ancient species. “On the one hand,” he writes of our Age of Homgeneity, “people want the wash of goods and services that the worldwide market provides.” But on the other hand, “Things feel changed and scary.”

You can say that again!

Enter to win Then Again, Diane Keaton’s new memoir by leaving a comment below.

Three FOFs will win.
(See all our past winners, here.)
(See official rules, here.)
Contest closes December 15, 2011 at midnight E.S.T.

{Brilliant Idea} Can a nightgown really help you sleep?

Two FOF believers (and business partners) are spreading the “Goodnighties” gospel…

FOF Sarah Baldwin spent 25 years as a high-powered marketing executive, launching mega brands such as NutraSweet and Dorothy Hamill’s Ice Capades. But by her mid 40s, she had stepped off the corporate track to raise her two children and was, in her own words, a “tired, restless menopausal mom, not getting any sleep.”

That’s when she happened upon a website featuring “Goodnighties”–sleepwear that claimed to improve circulation and sleep. “I thought the name was cute,” Sarah remembers. “So I ordered one.”

Exactly 19 days later she was on a plane to Hunstville, Alabama, to meet the inventor of Goodnighties, Marcia Bacon. “The very first time I wore the gown, I slept through the night and woke up feeling refreshed,” Sarah remembers. “I said to my husband, ‘This actually works! I have to find this company.’”

Today, Marcia, Sarah, and their husbands run Goodnighties together, a labor of love that’s quickly turning into a blockbuster business, with sales in all 50 states and 15 countries. Here, Marcia and Sarah discuss how a unique fabric has inspired their business, their friendship and a legion of fans.

FOF: Marcia, you actually developed Goodnighties.  How did you get the idea?
Marcia: While I was recovering from back surgery and going through menopause. The combination made sleep impossible.  My husband, who has been in the sportswear business for years, brought home a shirt sample made of ionized fabric (called Ionx) that supposedly increased circulation and improved healing. It was intended for athletes. I was skeptical, but I wore it, and noticed right away that I was sleeping better and my recovery felt easier.

Still, the shirt itself wasn’t quite right. It was too thick and too heavy. So I started development of a custom Ionx fabric that was lightweight, soft and non-binding. After 18 months, Goodnighties “smart fabric” was born. It has the same negative-ion properties but is also moisture wicking and antimicrobial. (It’s also made in the USA, which I love.)

What exactly do negative ions do?  It sounds a little like science fiction.
Marcia: Negative ions are molecules found in abundance in certain natural, outdoor environments such as the beach or the mountains. Recent studies suggest that they can increase serotonin levels, decrease stress, regulate melatonin and increase circulation. If you’ve ever had a fabulous night’s sleep at the beach, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Researchers at Columbia University are even investigating negative-ions as a treatment for depression.

Sarah, what did you notice when you first wore the nightie?
Sarah: I slept so well in it.  I felt energized!  I thought, ‘everyone should know about this!’  I didn’t know the science behind it then, but my whole body felt refreshed.

How did you connect with Marcia?
Sarah: I cold called her! And she couldn’t have been nicer. She appreciated my marketing background and what I could offer her business.

Marcia: Our abilities complimented each other. My husband and I had the manufacturing experience and Sarah, knew marketing and sales.

Sarah: A few months later, we went into business together.

What’s been the reaction from consumers?
Sarah: It’s not an easy sell at first…most people are skeptical. They think that if it’s not a sleeping pill, it’s not going to work. But once women try it, they love it. We get calls and emails constantly from customers who can’t believe how well it works.

Marcia: Our re-order rate is amazing. Most of our customers re-order either for themselves, or send it to other women they know have had trouble sleeping.

What are your plans for the future?
Sarah: Right now, we’re just having so much fun working together on a product we believe in. It’s inspiring. But it’s also a great challenge.
Marcia: We promised each other that when we hit the $5 million sales mark, we’ll take a trip together.
Sarah: We want to have a glass of wine in Tuscany! That would be a dream–no pun intended.

Editor’s note: FOF’s Founder, Geri Brin, discovered Goodnighties this year, and liked hers so much she contacted the company about creating a special FOF-branded version. Check it out in our shop and enjoy a 10% discount this week when you use code Good10 at checkout.

{Weekly Roundup}

Good eatings and readings from around the web this week, FOFs…

Ode to a heel

The Joy of summer

Simple “sallet”

Dine in France like a local

Summer refreshments

Fabulous french decor

Quick picker uppers

Lovely things

A great read

Escape to the land of enchantment

Strawberry summer crush

Next summer’s fashion… now

Until Monday…

P.S. Why we get fat.

Image via What Katie Ate

{DIY} High-Design DIY

For many, “crafting” conjures images of kitten sweaters, macrame plant holders and cross-stitch samplers. But a new generation of DIY-ers has created an online crafting Renaissance, of sorts, with sophisticated, high-design patterns and projects. Why check your style at the knitting-store door?  You don’t have to…. Here, our FOF knitting & sewing gurus recommend the websites that will inspire you to make something FOFantastic.

1. Deborah Purtell Coaster Squares. FOF Deborah Purtell designs delightfully preppy needlepoint canvases for beach totes, belts, glasses cases and more. Your family will be shocked when you DIY your own Lilly Pulitzer look-alikes.

2. Hazelwood by Robin Melanson Pattern and Budding Apple Shawl, (9). This nifty nautical sweater looks like J.Crew’s fall favorite but it’s actually a knitting pattern from Twist Collective, a carefully curated online magazine created in partnership with top knit designers and photographers. –Recommended by FOF Guru Diannerj

3 Purl Soho Color Change Scarf & (7) Purl Soho Pillow Purlsoho.com is the web home of Purl shop, a crafting mecca in Manhattan launched by two former Martha Stewart editors. The site is a beautifully organized archive of knitting, sewing and needlework ideas inspired by vintage clothing, folk art, modern art, Asian art, and of course, Martha.

4. Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Back, Henri Matisse, $8. Put down that “Home Sweet Home” cross-stitch sampler, and take a tip from FOF Guru Corky. “I love counted cross stitch, but most kits are mawkish. The Art of Stitching offers something totally different: fine art transferred onto cross-stitch canvass. The level of craftsmanship needed to create many of these masterpieces is very high. The results from some of the stitchers rival the finest Renaissance tapestries and anyone would be proud to display these works in their homes.”

5. Loom Knitting Bangles, free pattern. “I enjoy the work of Purling Sprite…a blog that includes lots of info on loom knitting (one of my passions!)” says FOF guru Dmhsny.

6. Penguin & Fish blog is a site filled with wonderfully quirky needlepoint canvasses designed by children’s book illustrator Alyson Thomas. Don’t miss her children’s alphabet series.

8. Brighton Bag from Knitty.com, FOF Amy Singer launched Knitty.com over ten years ago to showcase the gorgeous knit designs of amateur crafters across the country. As curator, Amy offers a discerning eye–and lots of fab free patterns. —Recommended by FOF Guru Diannerj

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{DIY} A Genius Flower-Arranging Trick to Use All Summer

FOF editors couldn’t stop talking about this brilliantly simple trick taught by Mike Gaffney, a master florist and owner of 8 flower arranging schools across the country. “Making a beautiful bouquet is not about being a creative genius. It’s about knowing some simple rules,” he explained.

Did your hubby forget to pick up a housewarming gift for the neighbors? Daughter getting married on a budget? Turn ho-hum garden geraniums or grocery store tulips into a beautiful bouquet in a flash. Just, watch this video:

{Giveaway} Win a “couture” seed kit from an FOF Garden Guru!

FOF gardening guru, Laura Baldwin, is giving away a starter gardening kit with a dozen types of her favorite spring seeds. To enter, ask her a gardening question here.

Thank you for entering. This contest is now closed.

Twenty years ago, FOF Laura Baldwin, then a financial analyst for IBM, was involved in a crippling accident (she was hit by a dump truck while in a phone booth). Unable to work due to injuries for three years, Laura found respite in the garden. “Gardening is therapeautic, it’s grounding and it’s healthy because it’s so connected to eating,” says Laura.

Laura enjoyed gardening so much that when she was ready to return to work she traded “counting beans” in the corporate world for growing them. She opened her own nursery, “Reba and Roses,” housed in a reclaimed chicken coop in Hilsboro, N.C.

Laura operated “Reba and Roses” until 2009 when she launched InTheKoop.com, a website where she sells carefully-selected seed combinations in egg carton planters. She sells only “heirlooms” (the “haute couture” of seeds) in her kits. Through her website, she aims to spread her passion and knowledge for gardening far beyond North Carolina.

Below, Laura shares her top tips for beginning gardeners:

1. Choose heirloom seeds over hybrid seeds. “Heirlooms are like antique seeds. They produce the same variety of vegetable or plant that your grandmother or great-grandmother planted. Heirloom vegetables have more nutrients too.”

2. Egg cartons make great planters. “Plants can be started out in egg cartons and then transplanted to your garden. You don’t even have to remove the plant because egg cartons decompose and make great fertilizer.”

3. Start simple. “If you’ve never gardened before, start with herbs, peppers or tomatoes, which are simple, then graduate onto more complicated varieties.”

4. Start small. “Don’t start with a 10″x 20” garden. Start with container gardening such as a window box, then graduate to bigger projects.

5. You don’t have to water plants every day. Women, in particular, tend to over-nurture plants. Rather than water every day, you can water a plant very heavily, wait until it dries out and then water again. This ensures you are not over watering.”

Have a gardening question for Laura? Ask it here and you’ll be entered to win her “Back to the Garden” starter kit.

{Passion Projects} Meet 2 FOFs who joined the Peace Corps

In 1966, at the age of 68, “Presidential Mama” Lillian Carter flew to India to serve in the Peace Corps for 21 months. At the time, she seemed like an outlier, but today, seven percent of Peace Corps volunteers are FOFs (the oldest is an 86 year-old woman serving in Morocco). And this past month, the Peace Corps turned 50 itself! To help celebrate this milestone, we spoke to two FOFs: Connie Ross, on the cusp of her commitment, and Dena Fisher, well into her service in Belize.

Connie M. Ross

Age: 50
Peace Corps Service: Leaving for Georgia [the country] at the end of April to work as a facilitator of a Business and Social Entrepreneurship program, helping people build businesses that are sustainable.

Where in the U.S. do you live?
Lakewood, Colorado.

Tell us a little about your life leading up to your decision to join the Peace Corps.
I was a clothing dealer and designer for fifteen years. When my husband passed away from brain cancer, I took my son on a nine-month trip around the world. We wrote for the Denver Post and an in-flight magazine. We’ve done five world trips since.

And that led to the decision to join the Peace Corps?

Many things culminated in this decision. After my first world trip, fifteen years ago, I knew that this part of my life was going to be spent working in other countries. Last year I worked as a program director for an English studies program at an all-women’s school in Kuwait. That was phenomenal, and I wanted to continue working abroad. When my job in Kuwait came to a close, I started looking for work. I saw listings for “Country Directors” in many different countries. I qualified in all ways, except for having Peace Corps experience.

Had you ever thought about joining before?
I applied to the Peace Corps when I was 21. But I had a knee injury and wasn’t qualified to serve. It’s always been in the back of my mind.

How does it feel to be going away for 27 months?
It’s what I’ve been doing all my life. My family is so accustomed to me leaving. Plus, I’ll have time off. We earn vacation time each month, and people can come and see me every month.

What are you most excited about?
I’m very excited to learn their language; it doesn’t come from any root language. I believe I’ll be fluent in some period of time – six months, nine months – being totally immersed in their culture.

Any anxiety or fear about it all?
No fear. I just came off a five-month solo trip; three months of it were in India. There were many times in the morning when I didn’t know where I was going to sleep at night. The world is an incredible place. And there are so many wonderful people to meet. Let’s just say that I’ve always had success in meeting wonderful people.

Connie’s book, Letters to My Son, comprising actual letters she wrote to Henry over the first eighteen years of his life, is available at Amazon.com.


Dena Fisher

Age: 66
Peace Corps Service: Currently in Belize, Central America, Community development/organizational management, 2010-2012

Where in the U.S. do you live?
New York City.

Tell us a little about your life leading up to your Peace Corps service.
I was a social worker for 20 years, then began a second career in public health. I retired at age 55 and became executive director of the New York City Office of Seeds of Peace, a program that brings children together from regions of conflict. I retired for the third time to lead a NYC-Nicaragua village sister city project.

What led to your decision to join the Peace Corps?
I was attracted by the energy of the 2008 election and what I believe is a new era in our relationships with Latin America. Social security, a state pension and medicare allowed me to do something where I didn’t have to earn a salary.

What was it like leaving your family to go abroad and work? Were they supportive?
My family is incredibly supportive, especially my husband. He had to take over family responsibilities including managing issues for my then-92-year-old mom. My mom died when I had been here in Belize for seven months, and the Peace Corps was amazingly supportive. I was able to continue service and deal with issues at home. I will never forget the help I got while I was helping others.

What about your friends?
My friends, on the other hand, think I am a bit nuts to be doing this. But they know I have always been interested in developing countries and making a difference. I regret that many of them – talented professionals – don’t use their skills in retirement.

Upon returning to the states, how will the experience change your outlook?
I’ll remain involved in developing countries, community health and social justice projects. I hope to continue with the Peace Corps response program – shorter term, specific projects.  I also hope to encourage young folks to get involved with the global community through the Peace Corps.

Anything else you think our readers would find interesting about your story?
I hope the stereotype of Peace Corps being about twenty-somethings will be debunked. I always knew about Jimmy Carter’s then-68-year-old mother in the Peace Corps, but never realized the full age range. One third of our group is over 55 years of age and I suspect that the average age is rising. I hope that men and women over 50 will consider the opportunity to make the world a better place by using their skills and experience, and receiving the incredible support available through the Peace Corps.

Please visit www.peacecorps.gov for more information, including 50th Anniversary events and activities. Go here to read the stories of more FOF volunteers.

[Guilt-free spring shopping! Shop your favorite stores through CafeGive and 5% goes to the charity of your choice.]

{Passion Projects} Before FOF Shirley Enebrad’s son died, he made her promise just one thing…

“People don’t want to hear that kids die from cancer. They just want to cover their ears and pretend it’s not happening.” – FOF Shirley Enebrad, Candlelighters of Western Washington

FOF Shirley Enebrad’s son was diagnosed with leukemia in 1980. He was three and a half years old. Before he died, at age nine, he made her promise one thing: “Cory asked me to help other parents going through cancer treatment,” says Shirley. “At that time, chemotherapies and treatments were evolving, and the idea of emotional support wasn’t important,” she says. “With 85 percent of marriages not surviving chronic illness diagnosis, it can be extremely isolating. I wanted support.” But, there was not much support to be found in the Seattle area at that time. Shirley started some support groups on her own, but felt a whole organization should be dedicated to the cause.  That’s when she discovered Candlelighters, an organization with the mission of giving emotional support to families facing childhood cancer. “It [the mission] wasn’t really happening though,” said Shirley. The organization was working to build Seattle’s first Ronald McDonald House, a very important cause, but not Shirley’s vision of direct, hands-on support for parents and families coping with cancer. Shirley became president of the Candlelighters in the early 90s and helped refocus the organization. Today, the Candlelighters of Western Washington donates 100 percent of the funds it raises towards helping families directly. This includes funeral and emergency funds for financially devastated families, support groups, bereavement retreats and care bags. “Many of our board members have gone down the same scary path and are ‘lighting the way’ for those unfortunate people who have been forced to follow us,” says Shirley.Our needs are not as fun as a kids’ camp…or as exciting and hopeful as research, but for the families whose children are suffering right here and right now, the needs are very REAL.” Shirley just recently “passed the baton” to a new president but continues to stay active as a grief counselor for the Candlelighters. She has also  just written “Over the Rainbow Bridge,” a book about how Cory lived his life to the fullest despite his diagnosis. “I get tired but yes, I think I am fulfilling my promise to Cory,” she says.

Find out more about the Candlelighters of Western Washington and how you can help.

{Giveaway} The perfect shade of red nail polish by Deborah Lippmann

Manicurist to the stars, FOF Deborah Lippmann, is giving away five bottles of “My Old Flame,” a universally flattering shade of red. Enter to win by commenting below: Do you get professional manicures or do it yourself?

Thank you for entering. This contest is now closed.

FOF Deborah Lippmann has cut and colored the claws of Cher, Martha Stewart and an impressive roster of other A-list celebs.

After dreams of becoming a jazz diva didn’t materialize, Deborah enrolled in cosmetology school where she discovered her true talent — nails.

Then, she nailed it in Phoenix, where the city’s socialites lined up at her manicure chair. But, it wasn’t enough, Deborah had stars in her eyes.

She tried her hand in New York City where by a stroke of luck, an Allure editor ended up in her chair. “One of the best manicurists in the country” wrote the editor after her life-changing mani. Editors at Vogue later dubbed Deborah a “mega-manicurist.”

From there, Deborah’s career took off. She gained a reputation not only for her magical manicures but for mixing custom colors so celebs such as Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon, Renee Zellweger and Penelope Cruz could have unique nail shades when accepting their Oscars.

Deborah continues to do manicures for top clients, but she also spends her days crafting colors for her award-winning line of lacquer.

Enter to win one of five bottles of “My Old Flame,” FOF Deborah Lippmann’s perfect shade of red nail polish by commenting below and answering: Do you get professional manicures or do it yourself?

(See all our past winners. See official rules. Five winners are chosen at random from all those commenters who answer the question. Contest closes April 7, 2011.)

{Book Expert} Linda Wolfe: Review of A Widow’s Story

In A Widow’s Story, Joyce Carol Oates’s describes the painful year following her husband’s sudden death. FOF book reviewer Linda Wolfe, a widow herself, praises Oates’s warmth, but questions her sincerity.

A Widow’s Story, Joyce Carol Oates’s memoir about her first year of widowhood after the death of her husband Ray Smith, a scholar and editor to whom she’d been married for almost fifty years, is bound to call to mind Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.  Since hardly a book lover over fifty hasn’t read the Didion work–and you must be a book lover if you’re reading my FOF reviews–I’ll get the comparisons out of the way right upfront. Where Didion was concise, precise and poetic, Oates is verbose, expansive, and prosaic, inclined to give us everything and the kitchen sink, from reporting her terrors about entering her empty house and running out of death certificates, to reprinting emails the complete emails she exchanged with friends. Nevertheless, this is a warmer work than Didion’s, more intimate, more straightforward, and truer to the actual day-by-day, minute-by-minute thoughts and experiences of the newly-widowed woman. (I’ve been there myself, so I know the territory.)

Every widow will recognize herself in Oates’s thoughts and experience. Take her anguish about being left alone:  “When you are not alone, you are shielded,” she writes, “from the stark implacable unspeakable indescribable terror of aloneness. You are shielded from the knowledge of your own insignificance….When you are loved you are blind to your own worth; or, you are indifferent to such thoughts.”

Or take her bouts of what Didion termed “magical thinking”:  remembering the times she traveled without Ray, Oates tries telling herself “with childish logic that if Ray were alive but not with me, that absence would be identical with this absence.”

Then there’s the  bursting into tears at odd moments. The inability to sleep at night. The depression that makes even simple chores seem impossible. The rage at having to secure documents just in order to access one’s money. The horrifying sensation that not just a beloved partner has been lost, but that one’s own self has been lost as well. Above all, the recurrent thoughts of suicide.

Many married women think to themselves–or even say aloud, as a friend of mine said to me just the other day–that if their partners were to die, they’d kill themselves. Oates always imagined she’d choose that course. “Frequently in the past,” she writes, “I had consoled myself that, should something happen to Ray, I would not want to outlive him. I could not bear to outlive him!  I would take a fatal dose of sleeping pills.”

Soon after Ray’s death, she does get out all the leftover sleeping pills and tranquilizers she’s been prescribed over the years, but she doesn’t take any of them. Their presence is reassuring, but she continues to have suicidal thoughts. To the widow, she says, “Suicide promises A good night’s sleep–with no interruptions. And no next day.”

Wrestling with her demons, Oates sets herself the modest goal of getting through each day.  And at book’s end, she declares,“Of the widow’s countless death-duties, there is really just one that matters: on the first anniversary of her husband’s death the widow should think, I kept myself alive.”

Oates doesn’t tell us that besides keeping herself alive, within a year of her husband’s death she found a new partner, became engaged, and in a few months married him. I hate to sound cynical, but I suspect Oates is saving that story for her next book. Too bad. Leaving out this information, which is common knowledge in the literary world, makes this otherwise memorable book seem unfortunately disingenuous.

Linda Wolfe is a renowned journalist, essayist and novelist who happened to move to a new apartment right next door to the Faboverfifty offices. Now she writes brilliant book reviews just for us. Read more about Linda.

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