Regulars and Shorts

Books: Transformation and Inspiration

By Adele Flail

In life, love and in the garden.
—by Adele Flail

The Wizard of Us: Transformational Lessons From Oz; foreword by Deepak Chopra
Jean Houston
2012, Atria Books/Beyond Words

wizardofusBuilding on Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, spiritual explorer and visionary Jean Houston uses the adventures of the archetypal Dorothy, the Wizard and friends as a map to guide the reader on his or her own personal journey toward heroic self-understanding. This book isn’t the be-all-end-all in transformational tomes—nor is it intended to be; rather, it provides an “Enlightenment: 300 mi” signpost to those both new to the ideas of the human potential movement, as well as to readers already far and away down the yellow brick road.

Drawing on the beloved movie as well as on the original story by L. Frank Baum, Houston takes us once more on the well-known quest while exploring the deeper truths inside the well-loved story, while providing meditation practices that help expand both heart and brain at each exper­ience along the way.

Houston draws heavily on the thoughts and knowledge of other visionaries, tying the Scarecrow’s search for a brain to new discoveries regarding the persistence of neuroplasticisty in the adult brain and the benefits of meditative states (to give one example), or linking the Emerald City to ideas in William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle as a metaphor for visioneering a society totally in balance with the natural world.

With all the “homework” you’ll be inspired to do after reading Houston’s book—between the meditation exercises, the reading or re-reading of the books and articles quoted, the inevitable watching of the referenced TED talks and, of course, reviewing the classic movie with Judy Garland—you’re sure to have a better understanding of your own heroic journey.


The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 ways to get kids outside, dirty, and having fun
Whitney Cohen and John Fisher of Life Lab
2012, Timber Press

CohenOkay, I have to admit this may be my favorite gardening book of aaalll the gardening books, even though I don’t…you know… actually have children. While this may be a sad reflection of my maturity level, this book does offer a lot of fun ideas for pretty much anyone who can toddle out into the garden.

Expect to find your basic procedural gardening know-how slipped in along the way (how to test your soil, how to start seeds, how to compost, etc.) but the main focus is on fun activities and recipes that might help even your stodgiest “grown-up” gardener discover a new way to revel in the bounties of gardening and of the natural worlds—check out a recipe for potato pancakes which also includes instructions on making potato prints (you are a shell of a human being if neither of these bring you joy), a guide to bug racing (fun for kids, and possibly drinking-game-worthy for the 21-and-over crowd), and instructions for one-bite salsa (both snack and treasure hunt) where a single chip gets loaded with fresh bits of onion as well as with cherry tomatoes and basil still warm from the sun.

For those readers who are actually parents, whether your kiddos are distractible itty-bittys who get bored of weeding after a few minutes, or sassy teens who have to be prized off of the video controller—you’ll find plenty of stratagems for getting your kids excited about gardening, from games that trickily get kids immersed in everyday tasks, birthday party themes that take cues from seasonal changes in the garden, and inspiring stories that will help your child make the connection between their special interests and the myriad experiences to be discovered out-of-doors.

And, for you grown-up people, reading through Cohen and Fisher’s compendium isn’t a kiddy-town slog. Parents and even child-free gardeners will find stories that spark happy remembrances from youth gone past—building delicate fairy houses in the tree branches or finding a cocoon under a leaf, marching bright green plastic dinos through the lettuce or eating raspberries fresh off of the cane…

That child, delighting in the sensations and endless wonders of the living world, is still inside every adult gardener, and, with help from Cohen and Fisher, is sure to remain—curious and open to experience —in the next generation of gardeners as well.


Fall in Love for Life: Inspiration from a 73-Year Marriage
Barbara “Cutie” Cooper with Kim Cooper and Chinta Cooper
2012, Chronicle Books

fallinlove“Cutie” Cooper’s seven-decade story of marital bliss is both memoir and self-help book, originating from the advice-dispensing blog she created with husband Harry (with the help of granddaughters Kim and Chinta) before his death in 2010. This may be one of the few relationship books on the market free of any wacked-and-wacky PUA stunts, 50 Shades of Domestic Abuse, or Men Are From the Silent Planet b.s. that’s kept the genre going since its inception—this book is utterly un-flashy, but is in no way boring: The retro-charming tome is filled with wit, style and warmth, and of course, kindly advice that will have you missing talks-over-tea with your own Gran.

Traveling with Cutie through her memories of the love she lived and lost, you’ll find the story of two people who were deeply content with themselves and brought that as a basis to their life together. Her enjoinders, such as “don’t expect perfection, but demand respect and honesty,” aren’t gimmicky—or anything you probably haven’t heard before from a wise older friend or relative—but nevertheless provide just the mental refresh we all need occasionally. In fact, each chapter is rich with gentle little mantras, guiding not only those looking for (or looking to keep) love, but those struggling with nonromantic personal relationships, career woes, facing the realities of aging, or the death of a deeply beloved one. While the title Fall in Love for Life is an accurate description of the Coopers’ marriage, it could just as easily be titled Fall in Love with Life, and if Cutie has anything to say about it, you can expect to do just that.

This article was originally published on April 26, 2013.