taken from Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House Facebook page
The Christmas season has officially begun at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House! “A Country Christmas” begins this weekend, December 5th/6th and continues the following two weekends. Phone 978.369.4118 x106 for reservations.
Last night the staff held an open house for members of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. This meant we could walk in the front door on our own and be greeted with Christmas carolers decked out in period garb and accompanied by violin and bass mandolin.
photo by Kristi Martin
The house is decorated with greens, candles on the walkway and a lovely wreath on the door. A tiny Christmas tree decked with handmade ornaments sits in the nursery surrounded by wrapped gifts. A tiny dollhouse decked out with a tree and populated by toy mice sat nearby.
Hot cider, homemade cookies and other treats waited for us in the kitchen along with a surprise–a beautiful gingerbread house rendition of Orchard House complete with glazed windows and flickering lights inside!
photo by Kristi Martin
The best part? Wandering freely throughout the house, lingering over the displays of rare artifacts, spending as much time as we wished in each room, inspecting every corner. And while wandering, engaging in lively conversation with other Alcott enthusiasts.
I couldn’t resist joining in with the Christmas carolers for a few songs. I made some new friends that night.
Jan Turnquist, dressed as Louisa remarked that this was the essence of the family that occupied Orchard House for twenty years–welcoming guests and friends, filling the house with warmth, laughter and conversation.
Oh, and now for the surprise!
I found out last night from Jan that the museum store will be carrying my new book, Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message! To say I am excited is an understatement. I am deeply grateful and so pleased that my little book will join the classics of our favorite author plus books by luminaries Madeleine B. Stern, Daniel Shealy, John Matteson and others. A dream come true for this newbie author!!
As you can see from the picture, the book comes in two sizes, one for your pocketbook, and a large print version (which my fading eyesight sure appreciates!).
Treat yourself to “A Country Christmas” at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House– phone 978.369.4118 x106 for reservations.
Just when you think there can’t be anything more revealed about the Alcotts, something new and wonderful comes our way.
A treasure chest
This rich and gorgeous volume of Little Women is filled with treasures that delight any fan of the March family from the casual reader to the Alcott wonk (like me). John Matteson never fails to amaze me with his insight into Louisa May Alcott; in his introduction and biographical account he brings a fresh approach to the children’s classic and its author that goes far beyond the familiar feminist interpretation. Matteson presents a well-rounded picture of each sister, focusing on what Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy bring to the table for readers today. As a Beth fan myself, I was so pleased to see how he gave this often misunderstood character her due, praising her faith, courage and graciousness when facing certain death.
From the vaults of Orchard House
There are many never-seen-before photos in this book from the archives of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House–stunning remnants of a memorable family which include locks of hair from Louisa and Lizzie, rare new photos of Anna, Lizzie’s New Testament (only recently discovered) and drawings by May of her nephews. Such remnants link the real Alcott sisters to their fictional counterparts in such an intimate way.
Norton did a magnificent job with assembling and designing this book–my husband said it looked like a Bible! My only quibble is that some of the paintings and drawings printed on the dark side.
Louisa’s gift and genius
Matteson concludes his biographical account with this sentence: “As a writer, as a person, Louisa May Alcott’s greatest success lay in the invisible gifts she gave to others.” So true. John Matteson does a magnificent job in extracting those gifts and revealing them to the world.
More to come
In the next few days I will get into more detail about what I found in the introduction and the biographical account. I have pages of notes to sort through; that’s how rich this was!
This past Wednesday was a BIG day. This arrived in the mail …
But that was not all. I also got the final mix of my soundtrack CD for River of Grace from the producer. And I have to say he really outdid himself. I sent him a text back with 7 hearts – one for each song!
It was one of those rare, extraordinary days that sends you into orbit and you just want to cling to that feeling forever. I will write about it in my journal so I can go back and bathe in that grace, that pure gift from God whenever discouragement knocks on my door.
What does all this have to do with Louisa May Alcott?
Louisa’s room at Hillside, dubbed “Poet’s Corner,” illustration by Flora Smith for The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard
By immersing myself into her life and works she became my muse. She reawakened a childhood dream of writing. When you think about it, it’s such a common tale when it comes to Louisa; she has inspired so many writers through her own life and that of Jo March, her alter ego. Little did she know of the impact her life would have on so many women.
Because of her, I became an author. It’s also because of you, dear readers. Your interest and contributions to this blog fueled my writing dream. I thank you.
Here’s a look inside of my first-born, River of Grace
River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times is a spiritual memoir that reveals how several major losses helped me rediscover creativity and faith. Published by Ave Maria Press, it is described as “Filled with powerful insights on the presence and action of grace–in the Mass and the sacraments, nature and grief, and even through the life and works of Louisa May Alcott–River of Grace guides readers in strengthening their faith, discovering their own hidden gifts and restoring a joy in living during and after tough times.” It contains lots of practical spiritual exercises called Flow Lessons that lead you there. (Some of the Flow Lessons are on my other blog, Be as One–check them out here.)
Losing a part of yourself
One of the losses I experienced was that of my singing voice. Yet throughout the writing of River of Grace, I kept thinking of songs that would fit with each chapter. While writing the third chapter on the loss of my voice, I experienced a miraculous healing after receiving a throat blessing on the Feast of St. Blaise.
This song was playing in my head; here’s a passage from chapter 3 on why:
How Can I Keep from Singing • Traditional Quaker hymn
“Instead of being raw and fragmented, I began to feel whole. A sense of wonder and deep gratitude welled up inside. The following Sunday as I entered the church to go to Mass I was immediately struck with the knowledge that I had received a significant healing with that throat blessing. I couldn’t wait to tell the priest.
Thereafter during Mass I noticed that it became easier to sing the hymns. Buoyed, I pushed my voice a bit further each week. One day while driving home after Mass I sang some of the most challenging songs in my repertoire including “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah and discovered to my delight that I could sing them just as I had before. My voice had been restored. I had received a physical healing along with the emotional and spiritual.” (from chapter 3, River of Grace)
New life after loss
River of Grace is also about new life. In the writing I learned that creativity is far more than being able to sing, dance, paint or write. Creativity is all about intention. I thought of Psalm 103, traditionally read during the Easter season, and this song:
So that’s the big reveal! This project has been my life for the last two years and a lot of the transformation I write about happened as I was writing the book. Writing is truly a life-changing experience.
I am so fortunate to be working with a great publisher. Ave Maria Press is everything everyone said it would be. Totally professional, really helpful, and daring, taking chances on newbies like myself. I am so honored to have a book published by them.
You can order River of Grace (the book) through Ave Maria Press and Amazon. Don’t forget to write a review after you’ve read it!
The CD will be available by the end of October; I’ll let you know when it’s ready.
I have been fundraising for the cost of the CD;
can you help?
I hope you are enjoying these clips from the new CD. With the deadline of October 15 looming just around the corner, I still need much help in meeting the goal of raising $1600 to pay for the making of the CD. You can donate at http://igg.me/at/susanbailey. Every dollar counts. If you can only give $5 or $10, I will be so grateful. And for those who can give more, I am offering some rewards which I think you’ll appreciate.
Along with the release ofRiver of Grace this October, I also have another book in the works, commissioned by a different publisher. And this one is all about Louisa May Alcott! The book will be launched in January of 2016.
The publisher is ACTA; this book is part of a series known as the Literary Portals to Prayer. The idea is to feature passages from the classics and pair them with bible verses which will then stimulate prayer and meditation. The bible verses come from a modern translation of the bible known as The Message. Authors such as Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson, Jane Austen and Elizabeth McGaskell will be featured, along with Louisa May Alcott.
The invitation to write this book came directly as a result of Louisa May Alcott is My Passion. YOU made this possible and I am so grateful.
I am presently combing through Louisa May Alcott’s books and journals to find the perfect fifty passages to complete my volume in this series.
And this is where you come in.
Many of you know Louisa’s canon far better than I do. I am making inroads but we all know how prolific Louisa was!
I could really use your help!
I would eagerly welcome your suggestions on passages for use in the Louisa May Alcott Literary Portal to Prayer.
If I use your passage, I will credit and thank you by name in the introduction I will write for the book!
The rules are simple:
The passage must contain between 73 and 275 words; poetry is definitely welcome and cannot exceed 30 lines.
The passage must contain some kind of spiritual theme, i.e. love of God, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, personal growth, a personal revelation, etc. The religious nature of the passage does not have to be overt; we want the passage to stimulate thought and inspire ponderance.
Cite the the name of the work and chapter number and name, and cut and paste the passage into your comment or email.
First come, first serve. If duplicate passages are suggested, the first person who suggests it will be the owner of that passage.
I would particularly welcome passages from Louisa’s short stories from Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag, Lulu’s Library, other compilations, or any stories published in St. Nicholas magazine. I don’t have the time to go through all of her short stories but should it be a specialty of yours, I would welcome your submissions.
Thinking about reading this weekend or over your vacation? Find some passages and send them along. I am eager to see your suggestions!
Please share this around with your friends on Facebook and Twitter:
I have just finished my second reading of Little Women. Both times I have listened to the free audio book on Librivox.com. The first time around wasn’t too bad until I got into the crux of Jo’s relationship with Professor Bhaer in chapter 46. The reader unfortunately had such a loud and grating voice that it totally ruined that chapter for me.
This time around I found a dramatic reading of the book which was done almost to perfection. The narrator (who also took on the role of Jo) was superior in every way. All the main parts were done well although it took awhile to accept Laurie’s voice.
Never fails to please
It is amazing how much this book yields in multiple readings! It’s a different book each time. But then you long-time fans know that already, don’t you? For some of you, it’s a yearly habit. I can certainly see why.
Changing view of Jo—her rite of passage
The first time I read Little Women I was put off by Jo and favored Amy. Jo was frankly rude, obnoxious and self-absorbed at times (part of being a teenager) and because I had spent so much time with her real life counterpart, Jo seemed a shadow of Louisa.
From this second reading I have a much better sense of Jo. Her rite of passage from the awkward teenager who never wanted to grow up to the mature and more sober woman of twenty-five moved me. Louisa did an outstanding job of tracing Jo’s journey to maturity and revealing some of herself in the process. Her grief over the loss of Beth and how she carried on in the aftermath transformed her heart, making it ready to love someone beyond her immediate family.
A perfect match
Many readers see her capitulating to marriage but I don’t see it that way. I still maintain that Professor Bhaer was the perfect match for her (and I’ve often entertained the idea that he was Louisa’s ideal for a husband who for her, did not exist in real life). Jo grew to be a better writer for having grown within herself, writing from that true place in her heart. (Oh, and by the way, Jo mentioned a few times that Laurie disapproved of her writing).
A quiet revolution
She and Fritz lived the companionate marriage that Louisa dreamed of and wrote about in Work A Story of Experience. Jo and Fritz shared everything, from meaningful work to family life. This in and of itself was a quiet revolution, illustrating a marriage between equals. I had missed the fact in my first reading that Jo actually was the one to plant the first kiss! Loved that. How like our Jo!
Ever present spiritual guide
Little Women began to shed light on a burning question I have entertained since I got interested in Elizabeth Alcott. Louisa often mentioned that her late sister Lizzie was her “spiritual guide” but she never detailed any of that in her journals or letters. I wondered then how that idea manifested itself in her life. Of course her books provide the answer. From chapter 40 on when Beth dies, I began see how real life Lizzie influenced her older sister. And I intend to go over those chapters carefully (especially 40 and 42) to find out more.
A treasure trove
There is so much treasure to unearth between the lines of this book. And many universal themes, themes that do apply to today if you work at it a little bit. Thank goodness for places like Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House where the spirit of Little Women is kept alive for generations to come.
Speaking to you and me
I am late to Little Women, very late. Most of you are probably saying, “Of course! Duh!” This book has spoken to you throughout your lives. In my late fifties, it is now speaking to me.
That’s the mark of a true classic. Little Women is no mere “children’s” book. It’s a book for every age.
My family visited Orchard House back when I was a little girl (I’m the one with the pig tails – my brother is to my left and sister to my right). The family with us are my aunt, uncle and cousin. My uncle took hours and hours of home movies and made a short one of our family’s visit to Concord including Orchard House, Minuteman National Park and The Old Manse.
While it’s just a glimpse, I am thrilled to have this record of my first visit to Orchard House! Who would have ever guessed it would be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the Alcotts!
Have you visited Orchard House? How old were you? Have you gone back for a return visit? (I’ve gone back too many times to count!)