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“Driving Miss Norma”

By Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle

c.2017, HarperOne

$26.99, $33.50 Canada; 243 pages

The car’s all packed with your gear.

The tent, sleeping bags, extra pillows...there was room for everything you’ll need and some things you won’t. You’ve really been looking forward to going. This trip will be remarkable – especially if, as in “Driving Miss Norma” by Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle, your cargo is particularly precious.

More: The Bookworm: A post-Apocalyptic Amish novel; and a bone-chiller

What will we do with our parents when they’re too old to care for themselves?

It’s a question that Baby Boomers ask every day, and it had crossed Bauerschmidt’s and Liddle’s minds. They decided they had time to make decisions. Their parents were older, but that didn’t seem any cause for concern; her mother and his mom and dad were in relatively good health.

Until they weren’t.

Bauerschmidt and Liddle are nomads, and they travel around the country wherever the roads take them. On their routine annual trip to northern Michigan, they found what they hoped never to find: his father was desperately ill and his mother wasn’t coping well. Then Bauerschmidt’s father died. Two days later, his mother, Norma, was diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer.

Bauerschmidt and Liddle were facing a frontier they never expected. And so they did the unexpected: they offered to take Norma with them on their travels, cross-country.

Not wanting to live her last days in a hospital, she said “yes.”

The trip wasn’t without issues: their first days were stuck in Michigan because high winds kept the RV off local bridges, but Norma’s wide-eyed excitement showed the benefits of living in the moment. After all, there were regional foods to sample, horses to ride, hot air balloons to soar in and a Native American celebration to see. Norma visited Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone for the first time. She fell in love with Ringo, a standard poodle. Prescription medicines stopped working for her, so the 90-year-old went to a “Pot Store” in Colorado for relief. She went to a World War II museum in Louisiana. She was in a parade, became famous and blossomed.

“None of us knew what was coming next,” says Liddle. “But one thing we now knew was this: taking Norma on the road was… a good decision.”

I didn’t cry as much as I thought I would when I read “Driving Miss Norma.” I didn’t cry at all, in fact; there’s just too much joy here to cry.

While it bears mention that there are times when authors Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle get a little sappy, it’s not all that bothersome. Readers can overlook it because the bulk of this travelogue is so charming: not only is it fun to watch “Miss Norma” go from housewife to hero for millions, but viewing the U.S. through her awestruck eyes lends a fresher look at old monuments.

And the best part? As Bauerschmidt learns more about his mother, so do we – and it’s easy to like what we see, just as it’s easy to love this book. And you so will. For your vacation this summer, “Driving Miss Norma” is the book to pack.

“Making Midcentury Modern”

By Christopher Kennedy, foreword by Barclay Butera

c.2017, Gibbs Smith

$35.00, $50.00 Canada; 198 pages

You’ll never forget the feeling of key in hand.

Imagine: you, a homeowner, finally, after saving, planning and a ceiling-high pile of paperwork. Starting today, you can go home (home!), shut the door and know that it’s all yours. So how do you reflect your style in this home you love? Begin with “Making Midcentury Modern” by Christopher Kennedy.

When he was a young lad, Kennedy’s parents taught him the proper ways to a well-mannered life: his mother made him write thank-you notes and she taught him how to “make a good first impression,” while his father advised him to “live each day to the fullest.” Those lessons were learned in “simpler, more gracious times.”

Kennedy insists it’s not nostalgia that makes him love interior design from that period. Instead, he just likes the trend, and he doesn’t see it “slowing down any time soon.” In this book, he shows how you can include Midcentury Modern into your home, even if it was built last month.

You can start in the entrance.

Those first impressions matter when it comes to a home, says Kennedy. Paint your front door in a Midcentury Modern color to welcome guests warmly.

On the topic of colors, Midcentury Modern isn’t shy. Orange is the “caffeine of the color wheel,” and it really pops. Think pink (Mamie Eisenhower’s favorite color), turquoise, white, red, or any shade of blue. Don’t just color walls, though; be bold with furniture, rugs, and accessories. Pillows in out-there colors are inexpensive ways to dip your toe into the design.

Know the “secret to a beautiful and easy-to-make bed” – and for guest rooms, consider twin beds. Go ahead and mix metals, bring childhood treasures out for display and recall Mom’s kitchen or bathroom for ideas. Take your indoors outdoors, weather permitting. Pare down; Midcentury Modern isn’t cluttered (so on that note, hide your TV). And finally, have fun.

“Above all,” Kennedy says, “never take your home… too seriously.”

Sometimes, it’s easy to feel indecision or paralysis when it comes to décor. What if you make a mistake?

What if you have “Making Midcentury Modern”?

With 100 easy-to-use (and surprisingly budget-friendly) tips, author Christopher Kennedy gives readers the inspirational boost they need to make a home dazzle. You’ll see how simple color will transform a house’s entire look, and where cherished possessions can become unusual displays. Kennedy fully admits that many of his favorite pieces were discovered online or at thrift stores, an idea that’s somehow very delicious. And pillows? Pile ‘em on!

The one criticism I have with this book isn’t with the information – it’s with getting that information: the font color against color can be very difficult to read. White print on a yellow background, for example, is nearly hidden.

It’s a design flaw in a design book. Go figure.

That’s not insurmountable, though: there are photos enough to make this coffee-table book a can’t-miss full of fun. If you need your house to feel groovier no matter when it was constructed, “Making Midcentury Modern” may be key.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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