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“A quirky, funny, and deeply thoughtful book”* that’s “filled with characters you’ll love and wish you lived next door to in real life”** from the author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.
Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years—ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she’s just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she’s becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.
At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks—like actually being called upon to draw whale genitalia. Oh, and there’s that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently, being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can’t be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity.
After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles botanical garden feeling out of her element. But what she’ll soon discover—with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners—is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not...
READERS GUIDE INCLUDED
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Abbi Waxman, the author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, Other People's Houses, and The Garden of Small Beginnings, is a chocolate-loving, dog-loving woman who lives in Los Angeles and lies down as much as possible. She worked in advertising for many years, which is how she learned to write fiction. She has three daughters, three dogs, three cats, and one very patient husband.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2017 Abbi Waxman
It’s been more than three years since my husband died, yet in many ways he’s more useful than ever. True, he’s not around to take out the trash, but he’s great to bitch at while I’m doing it myself, and he’s generally excellent company, invisibility notwithstanding. And as someone to blame he’s unparalleled, because he isn’t there to contradict me, on account of being cremated. I talk to him a lot, though our conversations have devolved from metaphysical explorations of the meaning of death to generic married conversations about what to have for dinner, or who’s on the hook for the lost tax returns.
When he died in a car accident, fifty feet from our front door, I seriously considered dying too, too. Not because my heart was broken, though that was true, but because my mind was completely boggled by the logistical challenges of living without him. However, it’s just as well I didn’t, because he would have been waiting for me in heaven, and man, would he have been pissed. He’d have made eternity feel like forever, I can promise you that.
I was driving along, letting my brain spiral aimlessly, when my phone rang. It was my sister, Rachel.
“Hey, Lil, are you on your way to get the kids?” Just the sound of her voice made me smile.
“I am. Your knowledge of my daily schedule is embarrassing for both of us.” I flicked on the indicator, slowed a little for the light, and made a turn. All with the phone illegally wedged under my ear. Sometimes I astound even myself.
“Can you pick something up for me on your way back?”
“Am I coming to your house?” Maybe I’d forgotten. It wasn’t impossible.
“Well, you might have been. How do I know? Anyway, I haven’t seen the kids for a couple of days, and you know how they pine.”
I laughed. “I can honestly say they haven’t mentioned you once.”
She laughed back at me. “You know, one day you’ll accept they love me more than you, and your denial of it isn’t helping any of us move forward.”
I pulled into the carpool line, doing the silent eyebrow raise and smile of greeting through the windshield at the teacher on duty. “Look, I’ll admit they’re fond of you. What is it you need, anyway? Something fundamental, like milk, or something more typical, like lubricant and a Duraflame?”
Suddenly a small palm smacked the window, making me jump and leaving a smear. Its owner, Annabel, peered in and narrowed her eyes. Her younger sister Clare stood behind her, gazing spacily around. Behind both of them, the teacher smiled tightly, telegraphing long-suffering patience with an undercurrent of threat if I didn’t get my ass in gear. I hurriedly hit the door-open button. I’d hate for her to drag out the death ray on my account.
My sister was answering me. “I need a pound of bacon, some Parmesan cheese, spaghetti, eggs, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of red wine. And butter, of course.”
“I’ll call you back.” I straightened my head, dropping the phone on the floor. “Do you need help or can you get her in, Bel?”
“I got it.”
Annabel was only seven but had the gravitas of a forty-year-old career diplomat. She’d been born that way, calmly mastering breast-feeding, crawling, eating solids, and whatever else I threw at her. She regarded the world resignedly, as if we were exactly as we’d been described in the brochure: a little underwhelming, but what can you do? She buckled Clare in, struggling with the straps.
Clare shook her head.
Clare shook her head, her large brown eyes fastened trustingly on her older sister. Annabel nodded at her, turning to climb into her own seat, fastening her own harness with the self-assurance of a test pilot on his fiftieth run, rather than someone with no front teeth and a Dora barrette in her hair.
“Good to go,” she informed me.
“Clare?” I wanted to make sure the little one hadn’t lost the power of speech since breakfast. Presumably, I’d have gotten a call from the teacher, but with all these budget cuts . . .
“Good to go, cheerio.” OK, smallest planet heard from.
I scrabbled around on the floor for my phone and called Rachel back. I put it on speaker this time and yelled at it as it lay in my lap. After all, now I had the kids in the car. Safety first, people. Rachel picked up before it even rang on my end. She’s a very busy woman.
I watched for a gap in the traffic as I yelled at the phone. “Hey, why didn’t you say bring me the fixings for pasta carbonara? And why can’t you stop on your way home?”
“Because I like to give you little riddles to solve, little challenges that keep you on your toes. Otherwise, your brain will atrophy, and then who will help the kids with their homework?”
“Are you cooking for us, too?”
“I certainly can. I’d be happy to. Why are you shouting at me?”
“I’m not shouting at you, the Bluetooth’s broken. But I’m glad you’re making dinner.” I took a left.
“Are we going to the store?” asked Annabel. I knew she found the store irritating but was balancing that against the possibility of sudden candy.
“One other thing,” added my sister. “You’ll have to tell me how to make it.”
“And then are we going to Aunty Rachel’s?” asked Clare.
I nodded and then shook my head. My sister was doing her Jedi-mind-trick “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” thing. “Wait, Rach, let me ask you this: If I’m buying the groceries and making the dinner, why aren’t you coming to my house?”
There was a pause.
“Oh, that’s a much better idea. Thanks! I’ll see you later on.” She started to hang up.
“Stop,” I interrupted. “If you’re coming over, you can pick up the groceries. I’ve got the kids, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. OK.” She hung up.
I looked at Clare in the rearview mirror. “No, honey, Aunty Rachel is coming to our place.”
Both kids looked happy to hear it. They really did like her better than me. And why not? She could turn a request for a favor into an invitation to dinner and make you feel good about it.
Preparing Your Garden
As soon as your soil is soft enough to work, turn it over with a fork and leave it alone for several days.
Cover the soil with a 1-inch-thick layer of compost. Don’t skimp.
Use a spading fork to loosen up the soil. Mix in the compost. Rake out stones and other crap, leaving the soil smooth.
A 10 x 16 feet plot is a good-size for a beginner. If that’s too daunting, start smaller. Remember, one pot on a balcony is still a garden.
Your seed packets have a world of information. They’ll tell you best conditions and times to plant. Not sure? Ask someone at the garden center, or call your local agricultural extension. Gardeners love to grow other gardeners.
I’m an illustrator, which sounds romantic, as if I spend my days under a spreading tree, dapple-splashed with sunshine, a watercolor tablet steady on my knee. Actually, I spend my days slumped in an office chair, destroying my posture and working on a computer. There is sunshine, of course, this being Southern California.
I love doing traditional illustration, the pencil and paint stuff, and I wish I had more time to do it, but when I left college, the job I found was illustrating school textbooks. I took the job expecting it to be a good starting place, but it turned out to be a great big comfy chair of a job, with a good salary, benefits, free coffee, and all the second-grade textbooks I could ever want. Eighty-two percent of American school children use Poplar Press products, and have done so for nearly a century. I love it. I learn all kinds of interesting stuff, and I draw and create things kids look at and, presumably, doodle little hats and mustaches on. Once, Annabel brought home one of my textbooks—Kids in History, Fourth Edition—and I saw that dozens of kids had used it, each of them adding new details to my historical figures I never would have imagined. Who knew Martin Van Buren was so well hung?
There are four of us in the creative department, plus a full-time writer, three fact-checkers, and a general assistant who’s been there forever and who actually runs the whole place. She looked up as I walked through the door that morning, and pursed her lips.
“Checking sent back your whale penis, Lilian.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Rose, how long have you been waiting to say that?”
She didn’t flicker. “I got in at seven, so a couple of hours, I guess.”
I kept walking. “Tell them they’ll have their penis back in the morning.”
She coughed. “I already told them they could have it back later.”
I stopped and turned. “Why did you do that?”
She was looking at the magazine she’d hidden beneath her desk. “Because then I could say, ‘We’ll have your penis back at the end of the day, but it will be hard.’ “
“I can see how that would be difficult to pass up.”
She shrugged. “In the maelstrom of tedium that is my day, I grab what rays of sunshine I can.”
My office mate Sasha looked up as I walked in. “Hey, did Rose tell you about the penis?”
“Yes, she did. Did you still need me to help you with your biology book?”
“The development of the chicken egg? It can wait.”
Sasha shrugged. “The chicken should probably come first anyway . . .”
Let me be clear: The creative department of Poplar Press is not usually a comedy mecca. Often it is very dull, especially if we’re updating a chemistry text or something. But it does have its moments, and there is the coffee.
I sat down, opened up the whale-penis file, and stared at it. It’s not a whole file of whale penises (penii?); it’s just one relatively small illustration in a veterinary-medicine textbook, and I’d been a little suspicious of why it was even included. Yes, it was important to be thorough, but how many vets were going to need to operate on a whale penis? It’s not like the last time you took your parakeet to the vet you couldn’t get into the waiting room on account of the impotent whale sitting nervously on several hard chairs. Or a young whale couple, holding hands and looking enviously at the baby animals in cardboard boxes all around them, occasionally shooting each other supportive glances and clearing their throats. I checked my e-mail: The fact-checkers had sent it back simply because one of the labels was misspelled. How did they even catch that? I picked up the phone and punched in a number.
“Fact-checking, Al here.”
“Al, it’s Lili.”
“Hey, Lili, sorry about your penis.”
I shifted in my chair. “Jesus, what is it with everyone this morning? You’re all beside yourselves about the penis.”
“As it were.”
“So here’s my question, Al. Are you sure there’s a mistake? My input from the editor agrees with what I have, so what do you have there, an encyclopedia of penises? PenisCheck 2000?”
I could hear him grinning. “I cannot divulge the sources of the fact-checking department, you know that. I’d have to kill you, and then we’d lose our best illustrator.”
I turned to Sasha. “Your boyfriend just said I’m the best illustrator.”
We could both hear Al yelping. Sasha shrugged without turning around.
“Tell him now I’ve seen Moby’s gear, I’ve lost all interest in him anyway.”
“Al, she’s leaving you for a cetacean.”
“Again? That whore. No, but seriously, our guy at the aquarium caught the typo, and we checked with the editor, and his original content was wrong. No big deal, just checking the facts. We see a fact, we check it. It’s our job.”
“Oh, well, OK, then. I didn’t know you had a tame-whale guy on call.”
“Again, I cannot reveal my sources, but how else do you think two scruffy guys with liberal-arts degrees proof all this stuff, if not for a fat, fat Rolodex of smart people with very narrow fields of focus?”
“You make a good point, Al.” I hung up, fixed the word, and re-sent the document to Rose. In the cover note, I wrote she could stick the penis in fact-checking’s in-box, which I knew she would appreciate.
My phone rang. Rose. “Upstairs wants to see you.”
I frowned. “Am I getting fired?”
She clicked her tongue. “No clue. Why don’t you gather your balls in your right hand and go upstairs and find out for yourself?” Rumor has it Rose was the mistress of the first Mr. Poplar, and was installed in the art department, as it was originally called, to hide her from his wife. Seeing as that would make her around 80, and she is not that, I doubt it, but clearly she has embarrassing info on somebody. Otherwise, they would have fired her long ago. She has people skills like lions have gazelle skills. I sighed and headed upstairs to face Roberta King, my general manager.
Roberta King was probably around my age, but we had as much in common as a roller skate and a race car. (This isn’t the best analogy for either of us but was something my dad always said and it springs to mind. He died last year, but I am keeping him alive by stealing his best material.) Roberta and I had met maybe half a dozen times, at work activities that sought to build community through trust falls and other excruciating experiences, and all I could remember about her was that she had looked as uncomfortable as I had felt.
I was wearing my working-mother-at-work ensemble, consisting of a long skirt over boots (with two different socks underneath, but the skirt covered them), a long-sleeve T-shirt that I had slept in, and a V-necked and somewhat stretched sweater from Target. Roberta was wearing a suit. She smelled of flowers. I smelled of waffles.
However, she was smiling at me as if we were old friends, which of course meant I was about to get fired.
“Hi, Roberta. Rose said you wanted to see me?”
“Yeah, hi, Lili, come on in. Take a seat.” She pushed her chair back from her desk and crossed her legs, indicating that this was a casual, girl-to-girl type of thing. I sat at an angle, like you do, and crossed my legs, too.
“How are the kids?” Ooh, a personal question.
“They’re good, thanks. You know . . .” Shit, I had trailed off. Why was this difficult? I was a woman, she was a woman, we both worked in publishing, ovulated, perspired, ate ice cream and felt guilty about it, read People at the checkout, wondered what people thought of us. We should be able to be relaxed.
“Two little girls, right?”
“And one dead husband?” OK, she didn’t say that. I just added it in my head. People often ask, when they don’t know you, “Oh, and where’s your husband?” Or, “And what does your husband do?” And it’s very hard not to reply, “In heaven, hopefully.” Or, “Oh, he mostly just rots.” But anyway, she didn’t mention him, which meant she remembered he was dead and was being polite and thoughtful. Bitch.
“So, Lili. As you know, things are a little tight in publishing right now. Education budgets are getting cut all over the country, and that’s having a direct impact on our business, of course. Poplar’s trying to stay ahead by branching out a bit.”
I laughed. She paused, frowning a little. I blushed....
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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2017. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. "A quirky, funny, and deeply thoughtful book"* that's "filled with characters you'll love and wish you lived next door to in real life"** from the author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years--ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she's just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she's becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed. At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks--like actually being called upon to draw whale genitalia. Oh, and there's that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently, being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can't be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity. After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles botanical garden feeling out of her element. But what she'll soon discover--with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners--is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not. READERS GUIDE INCLUDED *HelloGiggles**Bustle. Seller Inventory # AAC9780399583582