Rebecca Barry assumed that following her dreams would be simple, if not easy: make a plan and stick to it. For Barry and her husband, Tommy, Plan A meant moving to a small town in upstate New York, buying a charming fixer-upper house and earning enough income from their various writing jobs. Barry (Later, at the Bar) wanted to write a novel while paying the bills with freelance magazine assignments; her husband wanted to launch a green-living magazine. Both of them wanted a nourishing family life, full of fresh, local veggies, close friends and plenty of time with their two young sons. In her memoir, Recipes for a Beautiful Life, Barry chronicles their pursuit of this dream, and the messy, uncertain, luminous reality they ended up with instead.
At first, Barry thought the plan was working perfectly. She and Tommy bought a quirky Italianate house, joined a local farm share, found the nearby coffee shop and made a few firm friends. "Everything was going exactly as we'd planned," Barry writes. "Which should have been the surest sign." Less than two years later, in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, freelance assignments and patience both wore thin. Tommy's constantly changing work meant frequent travel and more stress, and their children, Liam and Dawson, refused to conform to anyone's expectations, or frequently, even to wear pants.
In short, hilarious chapters she calls "journal entries," Barry explores the challenges of pursuing the life she wants. She loves her children, but longs for time away from them; she wants to support her husband's dreams, but is constantly worried about money; she loves living near her parents and sister, but family tensions flare up frequently. Barry's mounting anxiety about her novel doesn't help matters.
The titles of Barry's chapters complement her subject matter perfectly, ranging from wry ("How to Civilize a Two-Year-Old"), to poignant ("How to Know When to Move On"), to disarmingly sincere ("How to Find Your Way Back to Brightness"). Occasional recipes for food and drinks (vegetable biryani, "Angry Mommy Tea" with whiskey) and other remedies (a soothing face mask, a pleasant family vacation) dot the book. As she goes to yoga, tries to meditate or takes refuge in venting to good friends, Barry begins to realize that her Plan B (or C, or D) life may just be beautiful after all.
"All our lives are small, really, and it's the smallness that makes them tender and bright," Barry writes. This book will bring a welcome dose of brightness--leavened with acerbic wit--to readers who, like Barry, are simply trying to do worthwhile work and care for the people they love. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Shelf Talker: Rebecca Barry's wry, insightful memoir addresses home renovation, life with young children and the slow realization that following your dreams is hard work.