If handwriting often trumps typing (and research says it’s so) …

Photo by via

… then it comes as no surprise that there are perks to reading printed paper instead of plasma screens.

Want proof?

Check it out:

  • University of Norway researcher Anne Mangen determined that people retain plot elements better when they read in print than on a Kindle.
  • San Jose State University researcher Ziming Liu found that screen reading encourages browsing and scanning rather than the “deep reading” associated with printed pages.

“We need to understand the value of what we may be losing when we skim text so rapidly that we skip the precious milliseconds of deep reading processes,” contends Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Tufts University Center for Reading and Language Research. “For it is within these moments—and these processes in our brains—that we might reach our own important insights and breakthroughs. They might not happen if we’ve skipped on to the next text bite.”

With that in mind, why not put your screen to sleep now and snuggle deeply into the pages of MaryJanesFarm?







old-fashioned mad lib

Go ahead, ask my granddaughters …

I am positively mad for the madcap fun of Mad Libs.

(Did you see that I even took a stab at my own version, dubbed the “ag lib”?)


So, imagine my delight when I learned that gals like me were goofing around with “libs” long before the template took on a trademark. Leave it to Susan Odom to discover such a treasure.

Who’s Susan, you ask?

She is the brilliant proprietress of Hillside Homestead, a historic Michigan farmstay that you’ll get to visit in the Oct/Nov issue of my magazine, on newsstands now (this is one you won’t want to miss … but aren’t they all?). When Susan isn’t entertaining guests with authentic turn-of-the-twentieth-century meals and activities around her pastoral property, she blogs a bit. And in one of her posts last summer, she wrote, “Well, here we sit on the longest day of the year as we prepare for our big Farmhouse Frolic tomorrow! We are all so excited—we will be waxing eggs; bubble bowling; making rhubarb sauce; playing games; watching pigs, ducks, and chickens; and so much more. One thing we could not quite fit into the schedule was a ‘mad lib’ found in a wonderful book called The American Girls Handy Book, which was published in 1887 (read more about that here). It’s called ‘Biographical Nonsense’ … Who know that there were historic mad libs? Great fun at a party!”

Thanks to Susan, we can all access this humorous helping of history here. Print it out and present it to the attendees of your next farmgirl gathering.

Giggles are guaranteed.

Photo courtesy of SimpleInsomnia via Flickr


American Girls Handy Book

You know how one good find often leads to another? Well, I stumbled onto a trove …

First, The American Girls Handy Book, originally published in 1887, is still in print (yay!).

the american girls handy book

Second, the authors—sisters Lina and Adelia B. Beard—wrote a slew of other beguiling books for growing Janes that are also available online. Have a look:

On the Trail: An Outdoor Book for Girls

Mother Nature’s Toy-Shop

 Indoor and Outdoor Handicraft and Recreation for Girls

New Ideas for Work and Play: What a Girl Can Make and Do

 Third, these sisters were not only authors, they were gung-ho activists striving to reconnect girls with nature (read how their efforts helped to launch the Camp Fire Girls and, later, the Girl Scouts here).

According to University of Delaware historian Anne M. Boylan, who wrote the modern foreword to the American Girls Handy Book, the Beard sisters focused on girls ages 8 to 18. In their estimation, the quintessential American girl was ready for anything, and she still is.

“Healthy and spirited, she thinks nothing of taking a 10-mile ‘romp’ through woods and fields with a group of friends, and collects flowers and leaves for preservation or presentation to friends and relations,” Boyne writes. “Above all, however, the Beards’ girl is handy. She can make a hat rack, a screen, or a bookshelf; fashion a macramé hammock or a cornhusk doll; and draw, paint, sculpt, or decorate a room. The American Girls Handy Book, in short, by emphasizing what girls can do, presents a portrait of girlhood that is vigorous, active, and full of possibilities.”

Sounds like the definition of a true-blue farmgirl, doncha think? I hear tell that the book even has a chapter called “A Heap of Rubbish and What to Do With It”!

Now, pardon me for a moment while I dash off to order a copy of the book to share with Stella and Mia. If you have a little fellow in your life, you might want to check out the companion volume, the American Boy’s Handy Book, published five years earlier by the Beard sisters’ brother, Daniel Beard.






Back in October, I mentioned the Kirkus Prize and its $50,000 award to each writer in a variety of genres. I also vowed to devour the chosen book in their fiction category. And devour it I did.

Photo Apr 21, 8 56 48 AM

Lily King won the prize in the fiction category for a brilliant little novel by the name of Euphoria. It also won fistfuls of other prizes and accolades, and I am happy to report that it certainly lived up to its reputation.

Lily King pays homage to Margaret Mead through a re-imagined tale of a true-to-life meeting of the revolutionary anthropologist and her second and third husbands, Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson. Using this as a point of departure, the story depicts a tragic love triangle between three rival anthropologists working along the Sepik River in Papau, New Guinea, in the early 1930s. When the novel opens, our protagonist, Nell, has just published a brilliant and controversial book about natives of the Solomon Islands that has made her very famous. She and her jealous and competitive husband, Fen, are about to set sail for Australia after a stint of disappointing field work in New Guinea when they happen upon a colleague and competitor, the desperately lonely Andrew.

King’s descriptions of the three characters’ collaborative yet colliding journeys in the hot and muggy air of the jungle, the stolen glances of hidden love, and the background throbbing of tribal drums was beautifully done. I will most definitely read the Kirkus Prize fiction winner for 2015.