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Recipes for a Beautiful Life

A Memoir in Stories



About The Book

Writing with “a delicate, beautiful balance of wit and yearning” (#1 New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert), Rebecca Barry’s poignant take on creativity, marriage, and motherhood will make you laugh and cry—sometimes at the same time.

When Rebecca Barry, writer, mother, cat lady, and aspiring meditator, and her husband moved to upstate New York to start their family, they were optimistic that they’d be able to build a life they’d love: one connected to nature and extended family, one where they could invest in their artistic dreams, spend time with their children, live cheaply, and eat well. Naturally, things didn’t turn out to be so simple: the lovely old house they bought to fix up needed lots of repair, their children wouldn’t sleep, and the novel Rebecca had dreamed of writing simply wouldn’t come to her.

“Anecdotal, funny, and telling, with the kinds of momentary glimpses of ordinary days that reflect something larger” (The New York Times), Recipes for a Beautiful Life is about reveling in the extraordinary moments in daily life while trying to balance marriage, children, extended family, and creative work. The book is an excellent companion for mothers with small children, but it also speaks to anyone trying to find meaning in their work or a life that is truer to the heart. Full of great dialogue, tongue-in-cheek recipes (Angry Mommy Tea), and tips on things like how to keep your house clean (“just don’t let anyone in”), Recipes captures the sweetness and beauty of answering your soul’s longing, as well as the difficulty, struggle, and humor that goes along with it. Mostly it is about the realization that a beautiful life, for this author, meant a rich, often chaotic, creative one. Or, as Redbook said when it featured the book in its “5 fabulous, even life-changing new reads” column: “Contentment isn’t about getting everything…but finding magic in the mess.”


Recipes for a Beautiful Life How to Have a More Positive Outlook

October 4, 2007

Yesterday morning I was very pleased to see that my horoscope is great for October. My favorite astrologer is Susan Miller because not only does she seem uncannily accurate, she writes my horoscope as if she is looking out for me, personally. She’ll say things like “Dear Pisces” (and I read “Dear Rebecca”), “You may have been feeling like you’ve been working hard and getting small returns,” and I think, As a matter of fact, I do feel like I’ve been working extremely hard for small returns and I’m so glad someone finally noticed! Then she’ll say something like, “Don’t worry. That was because there was a quinzbykz in your something house”—my words not hers—”but now things are about to change in a big way!” And then I’ll think, Excellent! Maybe I’ll win an award. And I’ll be happy until I realize that the horoscope is for all Pisces, not just me, and since Pisces tend to be creative people, all of us are headed for a good month and not all of us can get a Pulitzer. Still, it makes me feel like I have something to look forward to, which in general is a pretty good way to live.

My husband thinks my addiction to astrology is especially funny because there was a time in my life when I edited the astrology column at one of the magazines I worked for, and half of my time was spent adding in lines like “This would be a perfect month to clean out your address book” or “Date whoever you want! The stars are all for it!”

“That doesn’t mean it was bad advice or that it wasn’t true,” I said.

My younger sister, Emily, a therapist and yoga teacher who lives in Oregon, agrees with me. She and her husband had their charts read to figure out what would be the most fortuitous time for their wedding. (“I’m hoping they’ll be told it’s at six o’clock,” said my father, who is a very literal person. “What if they’re told to have it at three in the morning? I’m not staying up that late.”) Luckily that did not happen, although the astrologer did get a little uncomfortable when she read their charts. “Are you sure you two want to get married?” she said. “Really? Okay. If you insist. Go for June.” June was beautiful, and they are still married, so obviously, the point is, horoscopes work.

Anyway, this month is supposed to be great. All kinds of special days and career leaps, etc. It’s perfect timing too, because I love October. I love the dip in temperature, the way you can smell apples, grapes, and turning leaves. The way the wind seems to pick up and excitement swirls through the town around Halloween.

“Things are going to be looking up around here,” I said to my husband. He was in the kitchen/playroom that is upstairs near the bathroom because we are still renovating and haven’t moved our kitchen downstairs. I was in the bathroom, trying to keep the boys, who were in the bath, from drinking the bathwater.

“Don’t drink that!” I said. Dawson, who is nineteen months old, just laughed and took another gulp.

Dawson is one of those alarming children who just doesn’t seem to care about winning adult approval. He’ll knock over his brother’s trains and then climb up on the naughty chair and sit there with a pout on his face he made up, wait about a minute, get down, and knock over Liam’s trains again. “Dawson!” I’ll say, and he’ll put himself back in the naughty chair and put on his fake contrite look. It has nothing to do with making us happy or being sorry. I think he just likes to sit in the naughty chair and pretend that he feels bad about it.

I pulled Dawson out of the tub. Then I said to Liam, age three, “Do you know what’s in the bathwater? Dawson’s pee.”

“What?” said Liam.

“Dawson pees in the water and that’s why you shouldn’t drink it.”

“What?” said Liam. This is what he does when I say something he doesn’t like. He just keeps saying “What?” until I say something different. It’s not a bad tactic, actually.

“You heard me.” I went into the playroom and handed my husband the baby.

“My horoscope says my career is going to explode this month,” I said.

“Great,” said Tommy. “Maybe you should start working on another book instead of sitting around reading your horoscope.”

But who wants to work when it’s so beautiful outside? When the leaves are turning and the air smells like wood smoke and apples, and people are canning tomatoes and the trees are so yellow and orange it’s almost as if they can’t contain their own light?

In the bathroom, I could hear water draining from the tub. “Are you ready to get out, Liam?” I said.

“I’m just letting Dawson’s pee out of the tub,” he said, and took another swig of bathwater.

“Fine,” I said. “Fine. If you want to drink pee, that’s okay with me.”

“Did you just say what I thought you said?” said my husband. “To our child?”

Yes, I’m afraid I did. If you want to drink pee, that’s okay with me.

So. This is going to be a great month.

I can’t wait.

About The Author

Photo Credit: Domenica Brockman

Rebecca Barry is the bestselling author of Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories and Later, at the Bar: A Novel in Stories, which was a New York Times Notable Book. Her nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Magazine, Seventeen, Real Simple, Food and Wine, Saveur, More, O, The Oprah Magazine, Hallmark, and The Best American Travel Writing 2003. Her fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, Tin House, Ecotone, The Mid-American Review, Best New American Voices 2005, and was shortlisted in Best American Short Stories 2000, 2004, and 2009. She is also a writing coach, and cofounder of the magazine Fresh Dirt.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 19, 2016)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416593379

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Raves and Reviews

"Barry's writes about writing, while balancing two children with her other arm. It's raw and true, heartbreaking and naked. And in the end it's the story of all of us who strive and settle, grunt and bear it, while still managing to laugh. Which is easy, cause Barry is sly and very, very funny."

– Julia Sweeney, author of If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother

“Rebecca Barry looks straight at her life and describes it—sometimes hilariously, sometimes movingly. Her generosity of spirit makes for an engaging, wise, and delightful read.”

– Ian Frazier, author of Travels in Siberia

“A solid addition to the growing genre of short, witty essays written by women about having a career while trying to raise a family.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“Spontaneous dinners with good friends, soul-searching through meditation and yoga, and hilarious snippets of child rearing—all come alive in Barry’s memoir, which the reader will relish.”

– Booklist

“Dip in and out without missing a beat or the message: Contentment isn’t about getting everything…but finding magic in the mess”

– Redbook

“Unblinking honesty and bright humor . . . [Barry’s] book is refreshing and hopeful, yet not afraid to examine moments of despair . . . warm, authentic, and funny. She manages somehow to be truthful about parenthood without falling into treacle or sanctimony. An expert at vignettes, she easily conjures up the people in her life and the various moods of our landscape.”

– Ithaca Times

“Writing with a delicate balance of humor and truth, critically acclaimed author Rebecca Barry reflects on motherhood, work, and marriage in her new memoir about trying to build a creative life.”

– Sweet Paul Magazine

“This book will bring a welcome dose of brightness--leavened with acerbic wit--to those who, like Barry, are simply trying to do worthwhile work and care for the people they love.”

– Shelf Awareness

Recipes is anecdotal, funny and telling, with the kinds of momentary glimpses of ordinary days that reflect something larger — and funny. Did I mention funny?”

– New York Times's Motherlode

There is just no way I could pack everything I love about Barry’s book into this small space, so I’ll just say—with firmness and a little catch of emotion in my voice—you need to go discover her writing for yourself. Don’t make me reach through the internet, grab you by the collar and drag you down to a bookstore to buy Recipes for a Beautiful Life, because you know I’m currently reading a how-to manual on how to do just that very thing.”

– The Quivering Pen

“This woman was me. Somehow, she had reached inside my heart and revealed myself to me, told my story far better than I ever could.”

– Bookriot

"This is not a parenting book, but those who are in the thick of early motherhood will appreciate this book, this Not-A-How-To-How-To collection of stories that expose the sordid details of marriage and parenthood, the ones that lie behind the scenes of a life that seems romantic and wonderful and magical to everyone else. And the stories are funny because they are true. I know Rebecca Barry. I am Rebecca Barry. I know dozens of Rebecca Barrys. We Rebecca Barrys dream a world of farm shares, starlit summer skies, neighborhood coffeeshops, family nearby, friends at the ready with wine and cheese and bread and company."

– The Real Nani

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