Best Books on Presidents and First Families

Tomorrow is Inauguration Day so I thought this was a great topic for an otherwise ordinary Thursday. I’m a presidential book collector and avid reader of same, so it was difficult to narrow it down. The Roosevelt family, both the Oyster Bay and the Hyde Park branches are another topic I collect on. I’ve read nearly everything available on them and own many of those. I also have copies of several great presidential documentaries–I especially like those on American Experience. I felt the ones on FDR and on Eleanor were actually, dare I say it? BETTER on them than Ken Burn’s the Roosevelts! He gave too much time to Theodore and family.

My Very Favorite


Before he wrote Jaws, Peter Benchly wrote this sweet tale of a little boy on a birthday tour of the White House. Along the way he, and his smuggled in puppy, meet President Kennedy and see Caroline and John and the pony, Macaroni. A sweet, sweet tale published not long before President Kennedy’s assassination.  Jonathan Visits The White House is out-of-print but available used.

Some of the “Best of the Best”

Candice Millard has become a ‘must-read’ author of mine! I was mesmerized by The River of Doubt and felt similarly about this book, Destiny of the Republic. This book should have been titled how an egotistical and not-so-competent doctor killed the President! After poor James Garfield was shot he really should have lived. But his doctor, bizarrely, did everything possible to keep him from living! A tale of incompetence and intrigue with a back story of Alexander Graham Bell’s race to invent a viable x-ray type machine to aid in the President’s recovery. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard. Her River of Doubt is Amazing–it is about President Theodore Roosevelt’s late-in-life trip down the Amazon. Not to be missed. Her newest is on presidential “counterpart”–Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his escapade in the Boer War.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is presidential historian extraordinaire! I love her books. Well, I love her books EXCEPT For her Lincoln book,  Team of Rivals, which was hugely boring. Honestly. I hate saying that because Doris is a personal hero of mine. Even the movie was stupifying. But no worries on these two books (or her book on LBJ for whom she worked). No Ordinary Time tells how Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt set high expectations for wartime production–higher than anyone believed to be achievable–and then led the nation to achieve them. I’ve long said every teacher in the nation should read this book and watch the movie Apollo 13 and if they couldn’t understand why afterwards they shouldn’t be allowed to teach. This is a great Roosevelt book. Goodwin brings FDR, ER and their “attending court” to life.   The Bully Pulpit tells both of the muckrakers and of Theodore Roosevelt’s betrayal by his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft. Amazingly readable story.

First Ladies and First Families


There are numerous collective and individual biographies of our nation’s first ladies–as well as memoirs by nearly all the most recent ones. This collection is so readable though, that I’ve chosen it. First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents’ Wives and Their Power  President Truman’s daughter, author Margaret Truman Daniels, has also written a good collective biography. Of the FLOTUS memoirs, Rose Kennedy’s and Barbara Bush’s are the most interesting. I am anxious to read Mrs. Obama’s memoirs once she writes them.

Presidents in Fiction

The Lincolns had the most interesting marriage ever at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even more intriguing than the F.D. Roosevelts and their live-in friends, possible lovers, hangers-on and advisors. Mary Todd Lincoln’s bi-polar disorder, Lincoln’s own deep “melancholy,” their wildly different upbringing all make for fascinating reading.  And, don’t forget, the Todd’s were a family split on both sides of the war. Mrs. Lincoln’s Confederate widow sister was allowed to visit the White House during the war. Plus, a high school friend of mine portrays President Lincoln. (For what it’s worth a former professional collegue portrays Mrs. Stonewall Jackson….I’m on both sides of the War in my friendships.) These two books, Gore Vidal’s Lincoln and the newer Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, give the most vivid portrayal of the Lincolns. (Vidal’s book was made into a very good mini-series for television many years ago. It’s probably on youtube).

Presidential Memoirs

plain-speakingThis will no doubt shock you, but the only Presidential Memoir I’ve waded thru is this one–an oral autobiography of President Truman. I suspect I’m not alone in this. The average weight of a presidential memoir is equivelent to a Ford F-350 dual-axle longbed with a crew cab. They are Boring and I do mean with a capital “B.” They are how the president financially recoups from being president. They are his version of things. They are dull. The new POTUS doesn’t strike me as a memoirs guy. But he is savvy about making a buck so, who knows? Maybe he’ll publish his collected Tweets? Anyway, Plain Speaking, is a presidential gem. It started the Harry Truman rehabilitation process so that today he is a national icon of common sense. He left office wildly unpopular–so unpopular in fact that he carried his own bags to the train that he and Bess took home to Independence Missouri. This book led to a one-man show, Give ‘Em Hell Harry (which I saw in a road show version) [watch it here] and to the 1970’s Chicago hit Harry Truman, [click the link to listen to it] which I love because of the clarinet doodles in it.

Presidents Made for TV


I have Eleanor and Franklin, both parts, all but memorized. Truman is so well done Gary Sinise IS Truman to me. And, Missiles of October and the crisis it portrays was something I studied over and over again in college. Very well done.


Well folks, I could go on and on and on with this list. But I think this will hold you until the Ruffles and Flourishes start tomorrow and The Donald hears “Hail to the Chief” played in his honor for the first time tomorrow. While none has been anywhere near as successful as Trump finacially, others have been business men and not lawyers and gone on to be president. Most recently, Herbert Hoover was a civil engineer and became very wealthy from it. Jimmy Carter was a nuclear engineer (Naval officer) and large-scale peanut farmer who became wealthy from that. Harry Truman, famously, failed as a men’s haberdasher.



Top 5 Wednesday: Polarizing Books


Books I’m FOR


Yes, everything they say is wrong with it IS really wrong. I don’t defend the racism of a 1930’s southern author. But this IS the great American novel. I don’t buy the feminist argument that Rhett “rapes” Scarlett. Come on, folks! She wakes up singing and happy as hell.  It’s a fabulous epic because, in spite of and regardless of it’s flaws. It was written by a human before political correctness. If I could change things I would. Gone With the Wind.


And, though the movie roles were demeaning, they won the first Academy Award for an African American supporting actress–an actress who wasn’t welcome at the Atlanta premier. This book and the movie both hurt African Americans with the grossly demeaning characterization of slaves and slave speech, and yet helped by providing visibility for the racism that was giving rise to lynchings and other unspeakable treatment of African Americans throughout the country during the Great Depression. It made history when the N-word was banned in the film. Gone With the Wind (movie)





Never say never. These are my brother’s all-time-favorite books, so I do keep trying with them. I made it about 2/3 thru the Hobbit last try.  Hobbit and LOTR



My daughter had to read the whole trilogy in high school English. I can’t even…. I tried. I really tried to read the first one. Unlike Twilight, where I gave up on page one, this one I got thru a couple of chapters before realizing that was valuable time I’d never get back. You can add Divergent in here, too.  The Hunger Games.



Given I’m an Anglophile and love British humor, I should loved this. I don’t. I did finish it. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.




Heroin is amazing? Sleeping with total strangers is somehow enlightening? Oh hell no! Gag on this whole book. Wild.


But wait! There’s More! A BONUS BOOK!!!!


Seriously? This gas bag of a book is a huge hit among many women. To me it was vapid and insipid. Just no.  One Thousand Gifts.


Join the Top 5 Wednesday Fun with the Group on

Dear Queen Elizabeth, it is time….


Photo: Getty Images I believe. I will happily give correct credit if that is not the case.

Dear Queen Elizabeth,

You are the pride of your nation and Commonwealth. The World admires you and your dedication to duty. Even the Pope retired due to his age, but you have carried on doing what you do so well. As Prince Harry famously said, “Who tops a President [of the United States]? Granny.” That’s you. Sweet George’s Gan-Gan.

I was not a fan of your late ex-daughter-in-law. I got tired of her self-serving publicity and her “love me, love me” life. I’ll be flamed for that, don’t worry. But one thing I do think is tarnishing your otherwise outstanding record as Queen: the pettiness of taking away the H.R.H. distinction for the mother of the future king.  20 years is long enough.

Before you die–and I hope that’s not for another decade, please give Diana back her distinction as an H.R.H. And, order a sarcophagus for the Royal Mausoleum for her to be buried in. That Island he brother buried her on is a disgrace. Let her lie for eternity with her sons, who I assume, will be buried at Windsor.  This is a goodwill gesture that is much better than that silly speech you had to make after her death.  You are known as a Christian–not only because you have the title Defender of the Faith, but because of your very real belief. Forgiveness is at the heart of that faith. You forgave Charles and allowed him to marry the woman he really loved. Now forgive Diana and give her back her title and let her rest in peace with her sons.

I have admired you all my life. I admire what you and Prince Philip stand for as members of the Greatest Generation. But this is a wrong that should be righted. No vapid “Kindness Day,” no dysfunctional fountain, just give her back her title and a proper resting place.



Lisa of Hopewell

What Caught My Eye This Week: Mostly Hygge Edition aka What Women Wished Men Understood About Hygge

Hygge in General



This week the Ohio River Valley and the Cincy-Tri-State-Area almost had real winter cold. So I got busy seeing what all the Hygge hoopla was about! This scene is very hygge. Anything that involves “cozy,” smoked salmon, cheese, warm socks, book and cake sounds great to me! This space was designed to read under a warm blanket, enjoying a hot drink and beautiful scenery. It’s a hygge-place.



I love mittens. I’m pretty sure mittens are hygge. At least these are. To me.

The source links to the knitting pattern. Knitting is way-hygge!

Source 1           Source 2           Source 3

It can’t be hygge without cute, warm socks. Wool. Too many too chose from out there. These are just a tiny sample of my faves.



I have cats–mucho hygge points because 1) they pur, 2) they snuggle, 3) they purr. But they make candles a bit dicey. Candles are so tres hygge they’re off the charts. I don’t think you are allowed to breathe the word hygge without first lighting candles. Honestly. But I really love these candles. Naturally they’re from Anthropolgie–the North American supplier of all-things hygge. But who doesn’t love their stuff?

Hygge Comfort Food


Chai Spiced Winter Porridge

Hot cereal like Cream of Wheat or Oatmeal obviously hygge. This version looks scrumptious if you take out that gross banana. Recipe is linked above.


Smoked Salmon Smorrebrod

Smorrebrod (little Danish open-faced sandwiches on Danish rye bread) is hygge and I can clearly see why! Smoked fish is delicious–especially smoked salmon.

American-ized Hygge Food


Mint White Hot Chocolate

Hot drinks are de rigueur for hygge-ness. This recipe sounds so good! Creme de Menthe might work well, too. Recipe is linked above. I want to make this soon.


White Cheddar Beer Cheese Soup for Two

Soup, especially a creamy soup, screams hygge to me! This one, which only makes two servings, has that other hygge thing–beer (guy’s or students’ version of hygge). Carlsburg is the hygge-est beer ever. But is it hygee to slop it all over the table like that? Recipe is linked above. I think this needs big, soft German (sorry) pretzels with it, don’t you?  Yes the bread bowl is cool, but a warm, soft, salty pretzel?And, of course, more cheese. Cheese could have invented hygge.


Slow Cooker Brownie Pudding

True American Hygge Goodness! I’m hoping to make it today.

A Hygge Monitor

I’m not a serious bullet journal-er, but I do use journals (you can read about that here). But I love mandalas. This is a Mood Mandala, but why not a Hygge-ness Monirot?! [ Youtube has all kinds of great mandala drawing videos, but I found this Mood Mandala idea (with full credit given to the Instagram above)  in Boho Berry’s Plan With Me 13 video and she has a great video on drawing mandalas as well.] I dream of having a beautiful set of wooden mandala blocks to grace my huge coffee table!  I think both the mandala monitor and the mandala blocks would be seriously hygge. Maybe you could have a color chart for hygge moments?  I’m pretty sure coloring a mandala or assembling a wooden mandala with a hot drink while wearing warm socks and sitting swarthed in a warm throw blanket is uber-hygge. And, if it’s not then add cake. Cake is the secret ingredient of hygge!

Hygge for the Busy: Hygge in a Box or Postal Hygge

In the U.K. (aka “England” to those here in the Tri-State) they not one, but at least TWO, subscription box services to meet your hygge-demands! Here’s an article with a  comparison of the two.

Hygge for guys….or what women wish men understood about hygge



This is the guy and the bike I’d ride with! How cool are those boots! Jeremy Irons was made to wear these and ride this bike, I just know it! Jeremy Irons voice and Hygge were also made for each other. Cuddling and backrubs are hygge. Just sayin,’ Jeremy. That bike probably jolted your frame a bit….. Hygge…..sigh….

Beer is hygge when it is warm, dark and Danish and enjoyed at a hipster dinner spot or a cool little basement dive with live jazz. Wine is always hygge (well, you got me there–not when its in a box), but it’s espeically hygge served warm with spices and fruit floating in it. T.V. isn’t hygge. Reading and soothing music are hygge. Jazz is hygge. Acid rock is not.

Open-faced rare beef filet sandwiches are hygge. Beef jerky, even terriyaki or pepper flavored are not hygge. Too much gnawing.

Smoked salmon or sour cream-drenched herring on dark bread is hygge. Going fishing for for the fish, except on a luxury yacht, is not hygge. That’s just camping and nobody with a brain calls camping hygge. Not even glamping. Nope. Outdoor hygge is strictly walking hand-in-hand in beautiful snowflakes or in lovely crisp frigid air when the lady has her hair perfectly under control and is wearing very, very hygge socks and furry boots. Messy hair is only hygge if it is intentional messy, artfully messy.


Royal Copehagen is the official men’s scent of all things hygge. Stock up. If you’re a student, original Old Spice may be substituted for week-night hygge to save money.

Using hygge-stuff to get sex is un-hygge. You have to be SINCERELY hygge for that. Like you’d still hygge even if you were alone. You value hygge-ness that much. No, I’m not kidding. You’d have to be like Ross on Friends and want to put on Kenny G and take a bath with layered scents and oils and junk–when ALONE. Yeah. Now that is pretty darned hygge. And, you’d have had porridge for breakfast with chia seeds–that just screams hygge! Any woman would give in to a guy who ate chia seeds in public at a porridge shop. Trey-hygge. Uber-hygge to be manly enough to a) eat porridge, b) order it with chia seeds, c) look like you mean it. No, you can’t get bacon with that. Vanilla beans. Go with the vanilla beans. And a weird kind of fruit. Weird fruit is always a good bet for hygge porridge.

Back rubs are ultra-hygge. Couples massages by candelight, or by the fire, and always on a cashmere throw with mulled wine to drink and hand-feeding each other cake is so hygge it screams the Danish national anthem. Forcing “the pace” beyond that is borderline. Sweat is involved after those steps, remember?  Ditto insincerity. Trust is huge in Denmark.So gunning for sex is not hygge. Got it, boys? Saunas are not hygge—they involve sweat. Those are for the Finns–the people who live in Finland. Yes, it’s a different country and no, they aren’t as big on hygge except in school. Their schools are the very definition of hygge.

But, if you roar up on that bike (above) in those boots and look and talk like are Jeremy Irons, ladies will hygge the heck out of you, but you didn’t hear that here, ok?

Now, my tea is perfectly steeped, my cat is purring, my blanket is nicely fluffed and my book beckons. It’s Hygge time now.

Six Degrees of Separation


I saw this on Falconer’s Library. Everyone starts with the same book title, then leads thru whatever thoughts, memories, etc. to six books. Apparently it originates with Kate at Books Are My Favorite And Best.  Or maybe it started with Annabel Smith on her blog? So, today, I’m giving this a try. We’ll see where my odd brain leads us in terms of books.

First of all, I haven’t read Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, though I am familiar with it and the  rest of Stieg Larsson’s series.

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo makes me think of a song in Camelot:

I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?

You mean that a king who fought a dragon,
Whack'd him in two and fixed his wagon,
Goes to be wed in terror and distress?

So that leads me to …




…T.H. White’s magnificent  The Once and Future King. Because, obviously, dragon whacking was big back then. Merlin, I’m sure, had Wart practice daily–like soccer drills at practice today.





This leads me to……





…a best selling recent book that is two books in one–a story of girl who gets into old-school hawking like Merlin would have taught and a biography of T.H. White himself. H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald




Which leads me to ….




…Maurice by E.M. Forester, but really more the 1987 movie version–I could hear White talking like them, see him dressed like them, as I read H is for Hawk.I also imagined the public school old boy falconers were really some of the college Dons and similar in Maurice.





This, in turn, leads me to …



…the French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles for the simple reason that I always think Jeremy Irons was in Maurice but it’s Hugh Grant. And Jeremy Irons came to my attention in the Pallisers on P.B.S. and with Meryl Streep in the movie version of French Lieutenant’s Woman. I read the book in college and loved it. Then I saw the movie and, well, didn’t like it as well- except for Jeremy Irons who has been part of my inner life ever since. That voice…..

[Don’t even try to work out the logic….]



Which brought to mind…..




….my favorite Tracy Chevalier book, Remarkable Creatures both because it is also set in Lyme Regis and because I confuse the title with Jeremy Iron’s movie Beautiful Creatures.






Which leads me to a funny story about George V who recovered from a life-threatening illness in the lat 1920’s at Bognor. The town decided to immortalize its role in the King’s recovery by renaming itself “Bognor Regis.” When Lord Stanfordham, the King’s private secretary, told the king this he replied, supposedly, “Bugger Bognor.”


Now back to six degrees of separation….


So Remarkable Creatures leads me to….

…my must-read book of 2017–about an animal who likely will become a fossil



You can read more about The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating in my Must-Read Book of 2017 post.












Glass Universe or Glass Ceiling?


What are the odds that TWO non-fiction books on female “computers” (math whizzes) would make the best-seller list in the space of one year? Since I stink at math I can’t tell you the odds, but I can tell you that both The Glass Universe and Hidden Figures are well worth reading. (Note: I’m not able to review Hidden Figures because I didn’t get to finish the library copy I borrowed, but the chunk I got thru was super).

Dava Sobel, beloved author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter can certainly tell a fascinating story! This time she’s again talking astronomy only in the late 18th and early 20th Century. The Harvard Observatory employs various women to plot, calculate, check, prove, catalog and classify star sightings from their telescopes.  As a librarian, I was absolutely fascinated, by the detailed work that went into classifying and cataloging each star, Wow!

But for me the book fell short–I wanted to KNOW these women. I wanted to know why they loved this often tedious, but crucial, work. I wanted to know their stories–why they were single (one was widowed), was the one mentioned as “peculiar” depressed? Gay? Garden-variety weird? I wanted to know MORE. Although I had taken a non-major’s astronomy course back in 1982 in college, I wasn’t very interested in the science. A “light year” really isn’t comprehensible to me. But women wanting more, wanting a career, wanting to be part of something larger than themselves–that would have resonated with me. Unfortunately, this is a science book and book of institutional politics–Harvard politics–more than a book about women. Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s still outstanding. Just not what I wanted.

I do think this could make a beautiful period piece movie though. Shirt-waisted, lace-cuffed young women making important contributions, with perhaps a flashback or two to a suitor or a crushed dream for spice. That could be fun.

No matter, I don’t regret reading it and I do intend to read Galileo’s Daughter still.

The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Meant to Read in 2016


Every year there are great-sounding books that just slip thru the cracks. No time. Not available at the library. Arrives at the library at the same time as too many others. Whatever. Here are a few of the titles I meant to read in 2016.

Short Stories



Since before there were Reading Challenges, I’ve tried to make myself read a wide variety of materials. Short stories are my nemisis. To me they’re either too long or too short. I prefer regular book length stories, aka novels. This is my next short story collection–whenever I get to it. A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin.









I’ve loved the other two books by Backman that I’ve read so I really intended to get to this one as well in 2016.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman.









I actually had this in my hands, but didn’t get to listen to it in time–there are other people waiting on it. So, I slipped it in the book drop this morning. I request it again. I loved The Snow Child  [you can read my review here] so was very anxious to get to this one. I misread the due date or I’d have listened to it first thing.

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey









This one I’m very excited about. I really want to make time for it. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.










I’ve read so much on the Royal Family that the new show the Crown was disappointing. I’m holding my breath on the new Victoria which is why I put off reading this.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin.







I’m not much for Christian novels, unless they are written by Jody Hedlund or Lynn Austin. This year Jody Hedlund released a novel about the author or the hymn “Amazing Grace.” I so want to read it as well as another of hers that I’ve not gotten to about Martin Luther–Luther and Katrina.





It’s too important to be informed. The international refugee crisis–that in Europe and elsewhere is screaming for our attention. I will be reading this one in 2017.

Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis.









I had this and started it, but I was too slow and there were people waiting. I’d like to get this in audio.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.







Then there is the stack of books I bought in 2016 and haven’t even opened……..



See all of this week’s great Top Ten Tuesday lists at the Broke and the Bookish.






A Hillbilly Boy Made Good and a Drug War

It’s hard to review books that hit home. I live in the epicenter of both of these stories. I live in the first county after Appalachia or the one right before it, depending on which director you travel in Ohio on State Road 32. People come here for Amish tourism or drive thru here on their way to Marshall University football. Ohio State is on a different route.

It’s made more personal for me because I’m watching as kids who grew up with mine in this county are living out every aspect of the two books. This pain is what kept me from naming Hillbilly Elegy my must-read book of 2017.  There are two problems here: isolated, multi-generational poverty and opiates.

I had no idea that all those clean cut young Mexican boys driving older Hondas or Camrys were pushing drugs in the ’90s. Well, likely ALL of them weren’t, but many were. In Dreamland we learn about how an isolated section of Mexico, bereft by little opportunity, multi-generational poverty and feeling they had few other choices, fell into the world of drug selling in the USA. They had a new business model. A nice young man in a decent car who delivered within minutes. And, only to whites. And, preferably in rural or suburban areas. At the same time, pain management clinics were springing up. Oxycontin became the drug of choice, but when prescriptions became difficult to obtain,  heroin from the street helped just as much. Today we have an epidemic in poor, white,  rural America. Dreamland tells you how this all happened. [Note: Dreamland is currently $2.99 for Kindle].

Growing up in among all of this was J.D. Vance, a self-identified Hillbilly. It is his Elegy that is making people sit up and take notice of the so-called Rustbelt and the snarkily named fly-over parts of the country (aka Red States). Vance’s family came to Middletown, Ohio, along with many others from their Eastern Kentucky county to make steel. In post-war America, recruiters for companies encouraged whole families or towns to sign on. No more coal dust. No more mines. Vance’s grandparents, or in the local lingo, his Mamaw and Papaw, left the Holler in Kentucky and came north. But the Holler (as a small area in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky is called) never left them. Violence, fighting, hard drinking, and, yes, hard work that earned a darned good, middle class living, all followed. And, none of them ever said they were “from” Middletown, Ohio. They were “from” that county in Kentucky–even if they’d not lived a day there.

Fast-forward to J.D.’s life–a mother addicted to men, drink and drugs. But the factories were closing. J.D. had relative stability for several years. His mother’s problems weren’t so large yet. She took her kids to the library, she made her son into a reader. In that way, she gave him one rope to hang onto when the storms started for real. His father, not really welcome in his life by his mother or grandmother, kept a hand in. He found a decent job and got religion and kept his second marriage and family on an even keel. This, too, helped J.D. But it was the constant, reassuring presence of his Mamaw that helped J.D. to weather the storms of his erratic mother, her constantly-changing men and all that that brought with it. It was his Mamaw who provided “home”–the constant home, who grounded him, who gave him security. She also carried a gun to enforce her rules and he obeyed her.

Just like Ben Carson in the mean streets of Detroit two generations or more earlier, J.D. was given the gift of reading–and not a PlayStation. He had choas, yes; but he had  stable “parents” in his Mamaw and Papaw. That ever-present man, Papaw, though he lived apart from his wife,  added a lot to this equation as did J.D.’s own father. Our Father Which Art in Heaven helped too. J.D. found religion and held tightly to it for many years, only to give it up and then return again to it as an adult.

All of this got him thru without a police record, and with a high school diploma and perhaps most important–without children. It also helped him to see that other people lived differently. He looked at what they did and followed that example. He joined the Marines, in his words, to learn to be an adult. He knew he needed self-discipline if he was going to change his life to one of success and not drama. Later when he went to Ohio State, he graduated in near record time. Yale Law School was next.What were the odds of that? Probably like winning the PowerBall his neighbors lined up to waste money on.

What I found most fascinating was how he’s done with personal relationships. He knew only dysfunction in these–violence, shouting, slamming doors, scene after public scene of the strange hillbilly code of honor being played out wherever necessary. I watch this drama day in and day out in the lives of my kids’ high school friends and in our community in general. Those who can just plain leave–maybe returning for their Mamaw’s funeral, maybe not. They leave for the Marines or other branch of the service, for the nearby city with better low skilled job opportunities or even for college.

Those who stay repeat the drama–endlessly. They date guys who don’t want them, they bear children because they had sex, they work at two or three dead-end part time jobs in Mini-marts and Wal-marts and drugstores and fast food places. They drag the unwanted child from Mawmaw’s to Big Mamaw’s to Aunt Betty’s to their sister’s place in lieu of daycare. They invite guys home and have another child. They take the kids to a Church for a free dinner or to get free diapers. The men? They go free. They work for cash and don’t report it. They just plain don’t respond until a Sheriff’s Deputy pulls up. There have always been, and likely always will be, hillbilly men who are Teflon coated–no job or woman can stick to them.

Drugs and prison are rites of passage for the boys who stay. As is showing up for child support hearings. They “ain’t” working “no” fast-food job. And being qualified for little else they do seasonal construction for cash, if that. Or they get a decent factory job but fail the mandatory drug tests. They give the good men–the Hillbilly men who do nothing BUT work, a bad name. When you add in unscrupulous doctors writing prescriptions for pain pills, unscrupulous lawyers winning disabilities and you see that worthless men are aided by the system. Then, if they really hit the jackpot (oh, and you will find them in every casino and buying lottery tickets in every gas station) they’ll hook a woman who works as a home health aid and can steal pills for them, too. All while the good men go to work day in and day out. It’s the same story in all such isolated pockets of poverty.

If you are noting that this review is long and twisted its for a reason: The problem is long and twisted. That Vance, a Yale lawyer, owes his good fortune to a gun-toting granny with a profane mouth is an only in America happening.  That a solid middle class income, with retirement, health care and all the rest, did not remove the values of the Holler is the important thing here. For every one like J.D. who saw and studied how happy, successful people lived and worked to copy them–there are many, many others holding on tightly to the old ways. Families who are now multiple generations out of the Holler, with maybe even two white collar generations, are now seeing a reversal thanks to drugs. As heroin eats away progress things are slipping. Drug addicts in families, come by stealth and steal anything of value from wealthier family members. It all starts over again. Each child born to a drug  addict parent will most likely repeat the cycle. It doesn’t end.

There is no difference between this poverty and the poverty of the old city Housing Projects of African American urban communities, except these folks are white until they open their mouths. The substandard speech, the different cultural norms, the ease with which they take offense and feel a “slight” that was never meant–these mark them as a culture apart from middle class white America–no matter what the tax return reads. The men are in and out of work, in and out of their children’s lives (mostly out), in and out of prison. Education is a feminine thing, if it even happens. Becoming a parent is a rite of passage. This is not a culture that plans–they don’t plan for tomorrow, they don’t plan children, they don’t plan for emergencies, they don’t plan for how to deal with disagreement. It is fatalistic. Even if you get a college degree, “ain’t no jobs anyhow.”

I’ve been in a juvenile prison in this area–parents smuggled dope in to a kid. The Parents did. Think about that for a while. Dreams of getting out are done in by a cultural norm–a girl carrying condoms is “asking for it” she’s a “slut”. It’s ‘ok’ to get carried away by passion–especially if you’re the guy and get to walk free.  Filling out a financial aid form for college might as well involve locating the Rosetta Stone first. Even when workshops are offered, people don’t come. They don’t want to be seen as ignorant. They don’t ask for help.  If they sign up for college it is likely to be with a fly-by-night for profit rather than with a legitimate state university. Why? They felt special the way the for-profit wooed them. Asked what they want to do, they say the few things they’ve heard of : doctor or nurse, lawyer, teacher. Vance says this is mostly why he became a lawyer–albeit a lawyer in a very, very different league.CPA? What’s that? An engineer? An actuary? Who knows what those do.

It’s the same with medical care. Even if their job offers health care they wouldn’t go using it for Prozac. Nicotine is the Prozac of the uninsured. Except they add alcohol. And, today they add heroin. Yet children are born daily into this mess. They lucky few go to state-subsidized day care and get a schedule and boundaries and regular food. Another tiny minority will ride the little bus to the Head Start Center and get similar treatment. The rest will be born, passed from caregiver to caregiver, will grow up eating whatever the gas station sells and will receive obscenely expensive junk for birthdays and Christmas–much of it bought on Rent to Own. Show me a house without a big screen tv or a game system–go on, try. I dare you.Show me a house with books. They can be found, but it is tough. Look at children’s grades and you’ll see the plummet after the rite of passage birthday or Christmas that awards the PlayStation or Xbox.

A few will find religion and that will be  a stabilizing force. Another few will find a decent partner and learn from their patient example as J.D. Vance has done Some, in spite of themselves, will be promoted at work and be forced to adopt different cultural norms at least at work. They will learn to work an 8 hour day without two 30 minute (“15 Minute”) smoking breaks. Others at 35 or 40 or 45, will have their guts full of dead-end jobs and try again to go back to school–a few will even make it. No surprise, it is usually the women. Tired of three part-time jobs and making diaper cakes or birthday party cupcakes or selling makeup  on the side (more likely all of the above) the woman will finally want ONE JOB. Then  when she gets it and settles into a good, new life, the whole cycle will repeat when her daughter or granddaughter gets carried away and ends up pregnant. I watch this part of the cycle at work every day. The students are black or white, it is an equal opportunity disaster.

This cycle is so toxic. It is ANY isolated impoverished culture–black, white, Mexican, Cambodian–you name it. Born here, legally arrived here as refugees or immigrants, or illegals– if they are isolated with only their own kind this is what happens. Without jobs that pay a living wage, without mixed incomes and people around them working day in and day out,  they revert to the lowest moral denominator. Marriage is thrown out, education is ignored, self-sufficiency is only the illegal kind and whatever they can find to live on with no work is “enough”.

After Hurricane Katrina, in the anniversary news stories, various “victims” were shown successful in new lives–lives they would not have accepted if they’d been offered them before the storm. But forced out of the community they and their families knew and had roots in, they had to find ways to cope. They had no one to turn to but those in the resettlement group or in their apartment building or on their new job. Many had nice housing for the first time ever. Some had never held a job or really known anyone who had, they discovered work felt good–gave a sense of accomplishment. Some had a chance to go back to school while working. I have often wondered if offering a one-time grant (probably with a felony attached for misuse!) wouldn’t get a few people out of the dark holes they live in in communities out in the sticks. But then I remember–it took the hurricane to get these people to true freedom. To pride, self-respect and a savings account.

So what IS the solution? Welfare didn’t fix it? Free college won’t–most would get free college now thru Pell Grants and other grants. Mandatory school to age 18 didn’t fix it. Computers and wifi haven’t fixed it. Rent to Own doesn’t fix it. Sex ed, DARE, Abstinence Only, Head Start, day care subsidies, Cash For Clunkers–none of them solved it. Can it be solved?

In Peace Corps I saw that only sustainable initiatives worked. They had to have local buy-in, locally made parts, locally-serviceable machinery, local cultural norms. All of those mattered way more than money. It took the women to get it started, but for it to succeed it had to prove of value to the men. Example–women’s micro loans. When the women quit asking men for money to educate the kids because they made enough on their own, then more kids went to school and fewer kids went hungry because the man drank the food budget.

What is the magic bullet for the rural white community? The return of factories? Micro-enterprises for women?  One-time moving grants? Longer school days and longer school years? I don’t know.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

What Caught My Eye This Week

What Caught My Eye returns to its normal Saturday spot next week.


Used Tea Bag Art


Pink House in Charleston


Awesome DIY Pom-Pom Shoes

These would rock a dress-up clothes collection for a little girl or just be fun to wear with jeans or a colorful outfit.


Jane Austen Devotional

Thanks to blogger Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth for alerting me to this one. If you order it, why not be nice and do so thru her Kindle link?


USMC Dress Blues Bag

What Marine Mom, Wife, Sister, Significant Other wouldn’t want this fabulous bag made from USMC dress blues?


Ceramic Ice Cream Cone

The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile is Chock Full of Cool Stuff! I want the chocolate one.


Bun-Beanie Hat Pattern


Dawn Nicole Design’s Free Printable Coloring Bookmarks


Pencil, Pen or Make-Up Bag From a Cookies Package

King Cake Donut.jpg

King Cake Donuts

Mardi-Gras is in February, so why not make a practice batch of these this weekend?


Winter Beauty

Check out She’s Charming’s lovely ode to winter.


 Kitty Play Set in an Altoids Tin

Squee! The cuteness–even a toy litter box! (I’m not sure I’d make THAT, but little ones would wonder, wouldn’t they? Where would the kitties go potty?) There are all sorts of these play sets. Other kitty sets do not have litter boxes, if you’d rather not, well………….go there!


Recycled Bottle Art

See many more beautiful examples by clicking the link above.


And, last, but not least,

How to Use Up left over candy canes

Super Mommy Club has all sorts of great ideas! Visit her blog and leave her a nice compliment!