Book Review Ordinary Magic by Cameron Powell

Ordinary Magic Promises I Kept to my Mother Through Life, Illness, and a Very Long Walk

Ordinary Magic: Promises I Kept to My Mother Through Life, Illness, and a Very Long Walk on the Camino de Santiago

Cameron Powell describes the delicious as well as the sadder moments that comprise life as ordinary magic. His story has a magical draw that I think my readers will enjoy.

Are you planning to walk the Camino de Santiago?

Several of my friends have added this famous walk to their bucket list. I have not, but I’ve contemplated going with them. If you are considering the journey, PLEASE read this book first, Ordinary Magic: Promises I Kept to My Mother Through Life, Illness, and a Very Long Walk on the Camino de Santiago. I think now that I had better be committed and really WANT to go.

The Impact of Travel on Dynamic People

Cameron Powell’s mother wanted to go on the 500-mile-walk on the Camino de Santiago even though she had cancer. He agreed to go with her even though he didn’t always get along with her perfectly. (What adult child ever gets along perfectly with his or her parent?) As he describes their experience on the Camino, he shares the fascinating story of his life with his mother including the reason she changed his name. Powell’s powerful tale reminded me of my friend Chuck’s memoir, April in Paris Rendezvous with my mother, a tumultuous relationship with his mother, and a trip to Paris.

Attention Authors

I highlighted tons of his descriptions and a few things I thought was funny because I am so bad at writing them. Here are a few I chose.

“We passed her sayings around like nudie magazines, like samizdat, like Lemonheads candy.”(Can’t you picture young boys doing that?) 11%

I could have swallowed the moon.” (after he survived his divorce) 15%

“…an accent as sturdy as the stone of a Spanish villa.” (described his new friend Julio)

“We have arrived in St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, henceforth “St. Jean” so as to ration our hyphens for the rest of the trip.” 20%

“Pilgrims crinkle plastic bottles while they whisper, stomp around in their boots (while whispering), or even call out to their fellows in the next bunk in the sort of library voice that would be most appropriate if one were in a library to which one had accidentally set fire.” 26% (Can’t picture sleeping in a room of strangers along the road? This did it for me.)

The Unhighlighted Words

Eventually, I quit highlighting every few words that were funny or well phrased and immersed myself in the book. Cameron went through what many people in their forties to sixties endure, taking care of parents or being with them towards the end of their life. I could identify with his experiences, both the good, the sad, and the hard to write.

The final part of his book was filled with pictures of the people you met on the journey through his life with his mother. It felt like sitting on the couch with your best friend looking at the pictures of their family after you’d heard them talk about the folks for years.


I think you will enjoy this book.

Cameron PowellAuthor Biography

“Cameron Powell is a writer, six-time startup entrepreneur, consultant and coach, a largely repentant lawyer, and a semi-pro karaokist. Once upon a time, as a young lawyer, he got to say “Your honor, I represent the United States.” In early childhood pictures, there is evidence of his mother committing lederhosen. He is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and Harvard Law School. A rugged indoorsman, he nevertheless spent the last five years skiing and hiking around Telluride and Boulder, Colorado, and he’s now chosen to live in San Francisco.” Goodreads

Related Reviews  Brigid Gallagher’s review of Walking Home.

Creative Gardening Ideas You Can Steal from the Experts

Garden in the Morning

In the Central Valley of California work your garden in the morning like the experts. Woodlake Pride’s Botanical Garden is a working garden. You will find structure parts and plants and structures in various stages of growth here. Gardening is an adventure. But don’t get lazy, or you might get a timeout like the poor fellow in the background.

gardening advice

On June 18th before the temperature reached 250 degrees,  Monica Pizura and I headed to the Woodlake Botanical Gardens for a walk to see the blueberries and blackberries. We picked a bucket full of delicious blackberries, thanks to Olga Jimenez.

gardening advice

Then we wandered into the garden off the beaten path. You can see the main path in the background.

Grow Your Own Shade in Three Weeks

Woodlake Pride’s Botanical Garden is like a secret garden. You can see that Puppy Girl loves this little TP-type structure made of bamboo poles covered in morning-glory. This particular structure features three varieties of Mexican/Central American Morning Glory; President Tyler, Heavenly Blue, and Grandpa Ott.

gardening advice

This secret garden is Woodlake Pride’s Botanical Garden. It’s a showcase for unusual species and annuals. You can only go into this part of the garden if the gate is unlocked and Manuel is in it.

Crooked Rows? Try this.

Manuel Jimenez plants thousands of seeds a year. It takes about 40,000 seedlings to grow his garden. High school students and other volunteers help him plant the tiny seedlings.

Gardening advice

Others he plants directly into the prepared soil. It would take thousands of hours to plant them on his hands and knees as I do. So he simplifies his life with this nifty hand-held seed planter.

Since my rows are usually (always) imperfect, he suggested that I get a seed planter. Pardon my sunglasses for photobombing my video that explains how it works.

Plant Multiple Crops Together

Here Manuel planted papaya next to peppers, something short that we can’t see here, then a beautiful red canna in the background.

gardening advice

Here’s a better picture of the canna.

gardening advice

Have Fun, Grow What You Love

You’ve noticed that Manuel isn’t stingy with the flowers in his vegetable and fruit gardens. The vivid colors pamper the eyes and make gardening a delight.

Gardening advice

I’m not creative with gourds but I have friends who make gorgeous decorative objects from them. These grow along a row that has 2×2 wooden posts with string on both sides of the posts to hold up the vines. You can see the post here better than the gourds.

gardening advice

They are ornamental but hard to spot among the foliage.

gardening advice

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short piece of gardening advice.

If you haven’t visited the garden recently, take a stroll and check out the wonderful changing gardens. My friend, Manuel Jimenez is the Small Farm Advisor (emeritus) for the University of California, Davis. He is a world renown expert on berries, especially blueberries and row crops. His wife, Olga inspired him to create the beautiful gardens we enjoy in Woodlake, CA.

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How to Write a Novel by Melanie Sumner

Writing Tips from a Twelve Point Five-Year-Old Author

Writing Tips

Introducing My Editor Again

In my last post, you learned that when you are looking for editors, to help pick the right one, read the books they edited. Here is what author, Melanie Sumner said about the manuscript content editor I chose.”

“When Andrea took possession of the manuscript, I discovered an editor whose ebullient enthusiasm was matched with the relentless determination of a pro. We edited line by line in a correspondence so demanding and delightful that I saved it all. p. 289.”

Andrea said wonderful things about Melanie’s book as well, resulting in my purchase.

Hilarious Plot

I expected a different format for How to Write a Novel.

You know how most authors give tips about writing, then give several random samples. Melanie Sumner turns the table and fits the tips into the thirty-day novel. These tips filter through the brain of the twelve-point-five-year-old author, Aristotle Thibodeau, Aris for short. Aris gets extra help from Mrs. Chu, her librarian.

Her mother, Diane, an English professor at the nearby university, is the unfortunate primary target of Aristotle’s plot, which is to find Diane, not Aris, a husband. “Since I’ve already picked my husband out, I don’t have to bother with dating, but Diane hops on and off p. 29.”

Unfortunately, Aris met with some romantic difficulties also. “… I will now have to share with you, dear reader, the sad news that my fiancé, Billy Starr III, moved to Boston last summer after his mother, a professor at KCC, was fired for staging a pro-abortion demonstration. p. 19.” You can imagine how that long-distance romance turned out.

Poor Diane, can’t do much right. She hired a nanny to help with Aris and her rambunctious eight-year-old, Max, who can’t stay out of trouble. Aris calls herself the co-parent, but they all rely on Penn, the nanny.

All Great Literature Starts with a Flood

“Water was overflowing the bathroom sink and had started running into the hall. Max was in the middle of it all, ankle-deep, buck naked, a blow-dryer in his hand. “Turn it off!” I yelled. “Max! Turn it off right now!” “I can’t! The handle came off!” “No, the dryer! You’re going to be electrocuted, you idiot!” “Help!” he cried, clenching the dryer with both fists. “Somebody! Please! Help me! p. 26-27.” …

Max shot me a death glare, then covered his genitals with his hands and said quietly, “Mom, this may not be the right time to tell you this.” “Tell me.” “I can’t. You’ll get mad. It will be too much on your plate.” “Max, tell me why the bathroom is flooding!” “It’s not that,” he said as the puddle grew around our feet. “It’s something else.” He took a deep breath. “Aris dropped the F-bomb. p. 28.”

Penn, of course, helps, but in an offhand, subtle sort of way. He gets the job done where everyone else bungled for pages.

“When Diane told Max to bring her a screwdriver, and he showed up with a wrench, I realized that we’d have to call Penn. p. 28.”

Subplots Abound

Penn was the only father Max ever knew and is the romantic target Aris picked out for Diane. Unfortunately, Penn has problems committing, so Aris had thirty days of work to do to get them together by the end of her novel.

Here is a list of several of the subplots (I think)

  • The book-writing exercise,
  • Aristotle’s long-distance relationship with fiancé, Billy Starr III,
  • Aristotle’s relationship with Anders who asked Billy for her when he left,
  • Aristotle’s ghost father and their eight-year recovery from his death,
  • The grandparents in all their weirdness,
  • Middle school drama.

I wasn’t sure how to classify this novel. I think it’s okay for youth and most appropriate for adults, but you tell me.


I identified with how Aris thought through all the advice she read about writing a novel.

“PROLOGUE I’m skipping the prologue because I don’t know anyone who reads prologues except my mother. Hi, Merm! p. 4”

“There must be something disturbing in your story,” she (Mrs. Chu) said. “Some parts should be painful to write. Sometimes you’ll feel like you are bleeding the words onto the page.” “Right,” I said, but I was worried. The author of Write a Novel in Thirty Days! had not mentioned blood. p. 18.”

“Write a Novel in Thirty Days! says that your book must have a conflict. Something has to happen that changes the world the characters inhabit. Since nothing happens in Kanuga, I was afraid this might be a problem, but when I thought about all the library books Ms. Chu has loaned me, and all the yarns I hear at church, I realized that great literature often begins with a flood. p. 23.” (Excerpts of the flood are in the paragraphs above.)

Of course, Melanie/Aris included more tips than this, but you need an incentive to read the book, right?


I struggle writing descriptions, so I highlighted tons of Melanie’s. You will have to read the book to find them. However, this one tops my list.

“Question #1, Where does this scene take place? I was stumped. Everything takes place in my head. I have no idea what my head looks like. p. 17.”

Duh! That’s my problem! I live in my head, which has a lot more flexibility with setting than reality. (unless you run into a rock sticking out of the street while you’re thinking or reading Facebook to get closer to reality). Aris, Diane and I would make awful police officers. Investigators never look impressive when their faces are scratched from forehead to chin, not gashed.

Five Star Rating

About the Author

How to Write a Novel

“Melanie Sumner, a recipient of the Whiting Writers’ Award and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, is the author of The Ghost of Milagro Creek, The School of Beauty and Charm, and Polite Society. Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and Seventeen. Previous awards include the New Mexico Book Award, the Maria Thomas Fiction Award for Peace Corps volunteers, and the regional pick for Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. Sumner graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned her MFA from Boston University. Currently, she lives in Georgia and teaches at Kennesaw State University. p. 291.”

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