Two Outstanding Indie Books: Joe Potato, and Stories in Stitches

When I go looking for a new read, the proliferation of books is sometimes simply overwhelming. So when I discovered these two indie projects by authors I knew through previous work, I wanted to share them with you.

Joe Potato's Real Life Recipes by Meriwether O'Connor

Joe Potato’s Real Life Recipes by Meriwether O’Connor

If the short stories in Joe Potato’s Real Life Recipes don’t make you belt out at least one (perhaps astonished) laugh like the woman in the photo on the cover, you may need to take your sense of humor in for a check-up. Meriwether O’Connor knows and deeply appreciates rural Appalachia, its people and their no-nonsense and sometimes desperately hardscrabble existence.

Each character in these stories is someone you might meet there: vivid, unique and offering a wry and rooted view of life. And each has a recipe to share.

In this extraordinary collection, you’ll learn about apartment “rabbits” in New York City and how to catch and cook them, and meet Gardenia and the one unlucky squirrel that ate a hole in her trailer and thus became dinner. You’ll watch as a third cousin touches up the hair of his dead relative with black shoe polish at a funeral, and learn his recipe for peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches fried in a cast iron pot. (“Yes, you can use other metals, I understand, but what better skillet is there that can also be used in self-defense?”)

After reading Joe Potato’s Real Life Recipes, you’ll understand “local food” and Appalachian people at a whole new level. I’m not at all surprised that this collection was nominated for the Weatherford Award (yes, the one Barbara Kingsolver won for Flight Behavior). Or that Carolyn Chute, author of the best-selling novel The Beans of Egypt Maine, said about O’Connor and her stories:

VERY engaging style…Vivid characters…A strong writing voice like (this) is rare.

••••

Stories in Stitches, Volume Three, by Donna Druchunas and Ava Coleman

Stories in Stitches, Volume Three, by Donna Druchunas and Ava Coleman

Stories in Stitches is a collaborative effort between award-winning author and knitter Donna Druchunas (who wrote Arctic Lace, among other books) and well-known designer and knitter Ava Coleman. Stitches is actually a series of books on the stories behind the patterns of hand-knitted creations from dolls to socks and sweaters.

And I do mean stories: Volume Three, on patterns from World War I & II, tells the tales of both author’s ancestors, and thus of the people and culture involved in those wars. In “Dancing Stitches and Flying Fish,” a sock pattern and its history conjures a story that Donna Druchunas’ Eastern European Jewish grandmother might have told,

My grandmother sat at the foot of my bed when I was a little girl. Every night after she fluffed my pillow, tucked the blankets in around my neck, and kissed me on the forehead, she would settle in and tell me a bedtime story. Every night the story was the same.

Bubbeh’s name was Tzivia, she would begin….

The flying fish sock pattern that inspired Donna's research into Jewish history.

The dancing stitches sock pattern that inspired Donna’s research into one particular chapter of Jewish history.

You don’t have to be a knitter or a fiber person to appreciate the history and storytelling in this gorgeously designed and beautifully written series, or to understand how hand-made objects can reveal so much about who and why we are.

Opening page of one of the stories in Volume 3 of Stories in Stitches.

Opening page of one of the stories in Volume 3 of Stories in Stitches.

As Ava Coleman writes in the Editor’s Letter,

We tell our stories so future generations remember. Sometimes that is so we don’t repeat the mistakes of past generations. Other times it is to share skills and ideas with our future generations. This issue shares a bit of both.

••••

Traditional publishing offers a curated experience: editors, publishers and marketers select the books they think are good and publish them. Indie publishing offers a wide-open proliferation of voices and stories. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not so much.

Until you spot a treasure among the multitude, like Joe Potato’s Real Life Stories and Stories in Stitches. These voices and stories simply shine.

Plant Therapy, or Working with Wildflowers

My front and side yard "wildscapes," mountain prairie restoration projects-in-progress.

My front and side yard “wildscapes,” mountain prairie restoration projects-in-progress.

I exhausted myself this weekend engaging in plant therapy. That’s a good thing.

I worked on all three of my personal urban habitat restoration projects: Monarch Spur Park, the pocket park at the other end of my block; Ditch Creek; and my own yard, formerly a dump site which I am returning to high-desert prairie dotted with wildflowers and native shrubs.

Pulling tumbleweed and kochia from the mountain prairie along Ditch Creek. Photo: Catherine Zimmerman, Hometown Habitat

Pulling tumbleweed and Kochia from the mountain prairie along Ditch Creek. Photo: Catherine Zimmerman, Hometown Habitat

Whenever I’m worn down emotionally or the level in my creative well ebbs, I head outside and tend my wild “gardens.” Working with plants–especially the wildflowers, grasses and shrubs native to this very place–restores my spirits and my balance.

A growing body of research confirms that simply being out-of-doors is healthy. Physical effects of what researchers call “nature exposure” include lowered blood pressure and heart rate and increased cardiovascular health, plus improved ability to heal and less pain.

Native golden currant along Ditch Creek beginning to show its crimson color.

Native golden currant along Ditch Creek beginning to show crimson. Just the color makes me smile!

Time outdoors, in the more natural the setting the better, also helps increase our ability to concentrate and focus, and thus to learn. (Researchers at the University of Illinois have shown that time in nature can be as therapeutic for kids with ADHD as popular behavioral medications–without the side effects.)

And as anyone who has ever gone out for a long walk and come back having solved a problem or feeling like a weight has been lifted from their soul can testify, time in nature improves our emotional and spiritual well-being.

Do those hikers look happy and mellow, or what? (Richard and me at Bandelier Nat. Monument. Photo: Sherrie York)

Do those hikers look happy and mellow, or what? (Richard and me at Bandelier Nat. Monument. Photo: Sherrie York)

I’m in the midst of an intense and draining revision of my memoir, Bless the Birds. By the end of each week, I feel like the story has taken all I have, and then some.

Hence my need to get outside on the weekends and immerse myself in plant therapy. Give me a piece of ground that needs love, and a source of native plant seeds and seedlings (thanks, Ellen, for the latest batch!), and I’m good.

Wholeleaf Indian Paintbrush and Showy Fleabane in Monarch Spur Park.

Wholeleaf Indian Paintbrush and Showy Fleabane in Monarch Spur Park.

Yesterday, working with a small but enthusiastic crew on fall clean-up in Monarch Spur Park, I was thrilled to yank out a patch of tumbleweed and discover the first Indian Paintbrush to seed itself into the park, once the junky vacant lot and now a demonstration garden for restoring pollinator and songbird habitat, and saving water.

(Thanks to Bev, Billy, Bonnie and Louise for the help weeding, digging and separating plants, and trimming the big cottonwood tree.)

Walking home along Ditch Creek and picking up trash along the way, I smiled as I heard the distinctive “Zee-zee-zee” calls of a flock of Cedar Waxwings gorging on chokecherries in a small tree that Richard and I planted 17 years ago as a tiny sapling. That chokecherry is now about ten feet tall and loaded with fruit, hence the waxwings feeding.

The chokecherry showing its burgundy fall leaves on the top left.

The chokecherry showing its burgundy fall leaves on the top left.

Today I worked in my own yard. I planted some native perennials I bought on sale at a local nursery (planting in my “soil” is good physical exercise, involving wielding a mattock to hack out the rocks) and pulled weeds from my fledgling mountain prairie.

As I worked, I noticed wildflowers I hadn’t realized were still blooming and heard hummingbirds chatter as they sipped flower-nectar to fuel up for their long flight south.

Desert Four O'clock (Mirabilis multiflora) blooming in the "hellstrip" between the sidewalk and street.

Desert Four O’clock (Mirabilis multiflora) blooming in the “hellstrip” between the sidewalk and street.

Neighbors stopped to chat and admire the yard. A flock of Canada Geese flew overhead in a ragged V, honking back and forth.

By the time I finished, and cleaned up my tools and me, I was worn out. But I was smiling. Restoring my patch of earth restores me too.

Showy Goldeneye (Viguiera multiflora) blooming in my front yard prairie.

Showy Goldeneye (Viguiera multiflora) blooming in my front yard prairie.