The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

“It is sometimes easier to be happy if you don’t know everything.”

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Reading this book changed me, and changed my life forever.

It’s become a favourite in a way not many other books could; I love the main character, Precious Ramotswe. She seems so real to me that I’d have to remind myself (were I so inclined, which I’m generally not) that she is a fictional character. I love spending time with her, and sometimes I actually miss her like an old friend.

Alexander McCall Smith, the author of this hugely popular book and its follow-on series, is a genius. I have more respect for him than for almost any other living writer.

Being the first novel in a series (which I hope will never end in my lifetime), we are given a pleasantly meandering introductory tour of Precious’ life leading up to her starting her business. It hasn’t been an easy life, but what makes it beautiful and sweet is her, and her heart, and her perspective. And the author’s sense of humour!

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Cattle are the traditional source of prosperity in her beloved country, Botswana. And it is just this inheritance from her honoured and much-missed Daddy that allows Precious to establish herself as a business woman. That, and her ethics. She cares about people.

“There was so much suffering in Africa that it was tempting just to shrug your shoulders and walk away. But you can’t do that, she thought. You just can’t.”

She sees things in a way that is so clear to her, and makes so much sense, that to “help people with the problems of their lives” is a perfect career for this “traditionally built woman.” I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve laughed while reading about her and her many and varied exploits.

“The problem, of course, was that people did not seem to understand the difference between right and wrong. They needed to be reminded about this, because if you left it to them to work out for themselves, they would never bother. They would just find out what was best for them, and then they would call that the right thing. That’s how most people thought.”

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Gabarone, Botswana’s capital city

When the lawyer who was administering her late Daddy’s estate came to speak with her about her inheritance, she stated her intention to buy both a house and a business. He was less than enthusiastic when she announced her plan to “start from scratch” with a detective agency. He made the mistake of asking- out loud- could women even do that?

“Women are the ones who knows what’s going on,’ she said quietly . ‘They are the ones with eyes. Have you not heard of Agatha Christie?”

Our large-and-in-charge leading lady doesn’t wait for grass to grow under her feet. She gets right on with it and is soon open for business. And sure enough, clients come walking through her door with mysteries to solve.

Some are intriguing in terms of human interest (like the case of the teenage girl with a suspected, but unapproved boyfriend, and the philandering husband who she outsmarts at the Go-Go Handsome Man’s Bar…)

Others are a little more complex (think: stolen car, and con man.) One is truly terrifying; a young boy has gone missing, and a witch doctor is the prime suspect. Mma. Ramotswe (Precious) has the courage, instinct, and wits to handle them all.

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She’s clever, and somehow her reflections on life are always refreshing even though they seem so sensible and true that they should be obvious. In spite of her important and challenging work, Precious never lets her work stresses ruin her healthy appetite.

Oh, no. She loves to eat beef, and cake, and pumpkin.

“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin.”

Haha! I wonder how she cooks her pumpkin to make it so appetizing…? She never mentions pumpkin pie, but seems to enjoy it as a savoury vegetable, which is a bit of a mystery to me… anybody else like to eat pumpkin this way? I’d love to see a good recipe…!

Have you read any of Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful novels? 

Do you, too, know and love Precious Ramotswe?

What’s your favourite story from the books about her?

Thank you for reading with me!

Leah 🙂

p.s. I hope you enjoy this post; if you like it, please feel free to subscribe to my book blog!

 

 

Lagom!

‘It’s a kind of Swedish Goldilocks approach, with everything “just right.”’

Evidently, the Scandinavians have really got some things figured out.

And naturally, the rest of us are lining up- and signing up- to become a little more Scandi-savvy!

In today’s post, let’s take a look at Sweden’s ‘best export’; lagom.

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The word lagom seems to have originated with a Viking term ‘laget om‘ (around the team) which referred to the social custom of passing a horn of drink around a circle and making sure everyone took just his fair share, so as to leave enough for the others to do the same. As one author wittily remarked,

“The Vikings wouldn’t usually be first on my list as a moral compass, but they were certainly on to something.”

Modern Swedes have come a long way from their Viking forbears; so how does Lagom translate today?

Contentment, balance, and doing things in ways that make sense for everyone…

Harmony, restraint, and appreciation for simplicity…

Moderation, sustainability, and environmental consciousness…

As I sit typing this morning at my HEMNES desk (thank you IKEA) I’m hoping you’ll enjoy taking a little peek with me into the timeless, yet trendy Scandi-secret of lagom!

For your scrolling pleasure, I’ve read three books (just triangulating data 😉 on this scintillating subject to share with you. Each one was written by someone in the know…

Elisabeth Carlsson grew up Swedish in Sweden, and is now married to an Englishman raising their children in London. Here is her book, the lagom life.

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Linnea Dunne is another Swede who left the land of lagom as a young adult and is now married to an Irishman, with whom she lives in Dublin, where they are raising their young child. She’s the author of this LAGOM book:

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“Consensus is king and everyone mucks in.”

Honestly, my favourite is Niki Brantmark’s Lagom book; she’s an Englishwoman who fell in love with a Swedish man and jumped at the chance to relocate to his homeland (about 15 years ago) where they are happily settled and raising their children Swedish-style!

Somehow her perspective seems more to the purpose… She’s looking at the culture of her adopted homeland through the lens of someone who was newly (and enthusiastically) introduced to it as an adult, which is closer to how the rest of us are seeing it, with fresh eyes and an appreciative embrace…

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“Perhaps the most liberating lesson of all has been feeling satisfied with ‘enough’.”

Whatever their various emotional approaches are to Swedish culture, they are definitely all speaking on the same subject! Here are some common themes I found running steadily through all three books:

  1. Moderation– while this isn’t a terribly exciting approach to life, it’s certainly a healthy one. And it greases the wheels of social life; greed and bragging are frowned upon. No self-respecting Swede would reach for the last treat on the plate once it had gone around at fika (coffee break) time.
  2. Forangkringsprocessenkvallspromenad (evening walk after supper) or bass bastu (sauna with refreshing breaks in cold water or snow)!!
  3. Balance– famously efficient, Swedish employees mean business about quitting time! Making time for family, health (such as Friskis & Svettis; unpretentious open air group exercise in public parks), self care, and creativity. (Incidentally, friskis & svettis sounds a little to my untrained ear like frisking and sweating- nej?
  4. Allemansratten“He who buys what he does not need steals from himself.” -Swedish Proverb

Lagom at home means keeping down clutter. Simply take a kopstopp (purchasing break) if all else fails. To further ensure home comforts, draw in as much natural light as possible, decorate with plants, and choose furniture for functionality. This is all very important, especially when the weekend comes; Fredagsmys is the traditional Friday night  family veg session with convenience food and TV, followed closely by Lordagsgodis (Saturday candy time)!! Very lagom ways to approach lounging on the couch for some screen time, and consuming candy, ja? 

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I have lots to learn about this moderate and balanced approach myself… I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and never take coffee breaks (with or without cookies and cake)!

How about you?

Are you Swedish?

Have you been to Sweden, and what do you think of lagom?

Do any of these ideas resonate with you or help you see day-to-day challenges in a new light?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

The Colours of All the Cattle

“Life happens, she thought; whatever we do, life just happens.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, The Colours of all the Cattle

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And… he’s done it again! One of my favourite living authors, Alexander McCall Smith has conjured up yet another Precious Ramotswe story. I’m delighted every time a new novel in this series comes out, and I’ve never been even remotely close to disappointment after reading one. How does he do it? I wonder… How does a man in Scotland write so convincingly about a woman in Botswana!? Am I the only one who has to tell myself (time and again) that if I were to take a trip to Gabarone, I would be faced with the cruel reality that no such business exists as the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

This morning I was reading in Carol Shields’ Startle and Illuminate, a book on writing. I came across this comment, which is absolutely true of this series:

“… radical regionalism often produces a universal response.”

I’ve always wanted to travel to Africa, ever since I first saw the sunrise in Disney’s Lion King as an idealistic 16 year-old. Still, I am not the only one for whom McCall Smith has put Botswana on the map. Apart from that, it’s delicious to feel so immersed in a far-off place; the culture is palpable in these lovely books.

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Gabarone, beloved (if fictional) home of beloved (if fictional) Mma Ramotswe

Now consider another piece of Carol Shields’ advice, this one on appropriation of voice; we must be sure to convey others’ experiences with authenticity and respect.

This, I am convinced, is the key to Alexander McCall Smith’s brilliantly successful star character, Precious Ramotswe.

Charming as these novels are, the reason I keep coming back for more is not just for the  light humour, the little mysteries, or the trip to exotic Africa; but because what’s written in them matters. It simply does. The kind of ethics that just make good sense, which are woven like a golden thread throughout, catching the light occasionally, but never detracting attention from the people and their stories. That’s the magnet for me.

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If Precious were a tree, she would be this one.

“But please be careful—and never, never think that you are justified in doing something wrong just because you are trying to do something right.”

Spoken with her unfailing kindness, and accompanied by generous action, who could resist such wise counsel?

Which books do you return to for renewed perspective?

Thank you for reading with me 🙂

 Leah 🙂

 

The Happiness Passport

“Happiness is a mindset for your journey, not the result of your destination.” ~Shawn Achor

I’m obsessed with a few things; happiness naturally being one of them, because… who doesn’t want to be happy? According to the wise and witty Jane Austen, no one;

“I wish, as well as everybody else, to be happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.”

Handily, I also find that I have an insatiable appetite for learning. And people, and places. So you can imagine the relish with which I devoured this gorgeous book!

Clearly, no one place or culture has a monopoly on happiness. It’s absolutely fascinating to discover elements of contentment and joie-de-vivre tucked away in all parts of the world.

When I started school, my mom was part of a carpool; parents from nearby farms took turns driving each other’s children to school along with their own. Two of the families in our carpool were from India, and our mother wasted no time learning to cook a delicious Indian vegetarian curry and roti from one of these women. This recipe became one of our family favourites, and to this day we love to make it; only a couple weeks ago our adult son asked me for the recipe so he can make it with/for his lovely wife!

I’m grateful to my mom for this introduction to cultural diversity appreciation!

I’m convinced that we can learn something from everyone we meet. And from people we don’t meet, who find other ways to share their experiences and perspectives with us. For example, because of Megan C. Hayes, PhD., we now have at our fingertips such simple and sweet word/concepts as ‘cwtch’ (a Welsh term for a cozy cuddle), ‘ubuntu’ (Nguni Buntu for the common bond of unanimity between all people), ‘melmastia’ (a Pashto expression for unconditional hospitality and profound respect for guests), and one of my personal favourites -surely coined by someone who enjoys babies and little people as much as I do- ‘gigil’ (Tagalog for an overwhelming feeling, often in the context of wanting to pinch a cute or cherished baby)!!!

You might want to check out Megan Hayes’ program for writing oneself happy!

Positive Journal

What happiness tips have you gleaned from other languages, cultures, or places?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

The Golden Rule

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“DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU.”

Like most of us, I’ve been familiar with this ethic of empathy for as long as I can remember. Because I am a Christian, I learned it from my parents as well as in church.

What I didn’t realize before reading this artfully illustrated book is that the golden rule is found in all the world’s religions… According to author Ilene Cooper,

“Christianity says: You should love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Judaism says: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow humans.

Islam says: Hurt no one that no one may hurt you.

Hinduism says: This is the sum of duty: to do nothing to others which would cause them pain.

Buddhism says: Do not do to others what would hurt you.

The Shawnee Tribe says: Do not kill or injure your neighbour, for it is not he or she that you injure; you injure yourself.”

This book presents a simple tale of a young boy learning about this universal element of humanity in a thought-provoking conversation with his grandfather…

The little lad likes that the Golden Rule is the same for children and adults. I like how his grandpa answers his how-to query;

“You begin by using your imagination.”

Sometimes it’s too easy for me to interact with (especially my family) just a little thoughtlessly. When I take a little moment to consider first, I’m far more likely to treat the people I love the most in the way I would like to be treated; with kindness and respect.

A couple days ago a man stepped aside, holding the door open for me as I was leaving the post office. He was on his way in, and happened to have his hand on the door handle before I did. It was easy and natural for me then to hold it open for him as he took his turn passing through. It was such a simple gesture, but it brightened my day.

How has someone touched your life with gold by following this simple rule?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂