Fabulous in Flats (Wagner)

Discussion Questions
1. In the “forward” to this book, Mary comes to the realization that she has managed to leap from one set of stereotypes or pigeonholes to another. Have you ever felt restless or taken for granted either in work or family or friendships and how? Have you done anything to change it?  Is there a value or a comfort to keeping things predictable? Is that a double-edged sword?

2. Mary has gotten a lot of mileage in earlier books from learning how to use power tools, but running a chop saw is a big leap by any measure. Would you have done it when the situation arose, or would you have insisted on your earlier expectation of only serving the potato salad? Do you think that having “hands on” this project makes it more meaningful to Mary in the long run? Given the option (and the money), would you rather something like this be a family project or just hire it out? Why?

3. Mary has written about several “before and after” moments in her life. One was clearly the divorce, another was her horseback riding accident in which she suffered a broken back. How did the accident change her? Have you had any similar turning points or dividing lines?
4. Which essay in “Fabulous in Flats” resonated the most with you? Why? Do you think you would enjoy having a cup of coffee with Mary?

5. In “Tiger Beat,” Mary describes a harrowing emergency room visit with her college-aged son, and a testy head-to-head bedside exchange with a hospital doctor. One school of parenting holds that once children reach 18, they’re on their own in the world and should handle their own problems. The other extreme, the “helicopter parent,” can’t seem to stay away. Where do you think that Mary falls in this? Where do YOU think lines should be drawn about helping adult children no longer living at home? Do you think that too much parental “help” leads to adults who can’t cut the apron strings?  Where is the middle ground?

6. In “Tool Time,” Mary pivots between celebrating her growing independence in handling household problems after her divorce, and mourning the fact that independence can sometimes feel a lot like loneliness.  What would you have told her as she sat and wept at the kitchen table that day? Have you ever had to balance a wish or a need to change as a person with caution as to how it would affect the relationship that you are or were in?  What did you ultimately do? Were you surprised at the result?

7. In “Angels in the Snow,” Mary describes the accident on the interstate at night that landed her and her daughter in the home of total strangers in the middle of a blizzard. She describes the married couple that took them in as “angels.” Have you felt the presence of angels in your life? When and how?

8. When cleaning out her garage, Mary discovers a couple of old “Nancy Drew” girl detective stories and finally sits down to read them and revisit her childhood literary companions.  She eventually goes on a detective quest of her own, and learns that the Nancy Drew character has undergone several transformations from generation to generation. What do you think about the “modernization” of the character? Were there traits that have been lost or gained that you would have decided differently if you were guiding the series? Is the Nancy Drew of today someone you would want your daughter to model herself on? Why or why not?

9. In “Shore Lines,” Mary describes her visceral longing for the sandy shore of Lake Michigan, and describes the spontaneous creative process that it often sparks. Where do you go or what do you do to get your emotional batteries refilled?  How often?  Do you schedule your sanity breaks?  If not, what tips the balance for you to finally say, “that’s it, I’m outta here!!”

10. Mary describes adopting her late godmother’s mink stole, and using it to play “dress up” for a Viennese Ball in a bargain-priced prom dress. Would you enjoy an evening like that? Is there a piece of clothing you cherish that’s been handed down to you from someone who has passed on? What is it, and why is it important to you? Do you usually think of that person when you wear it?

11. In “Prisms, Perspectives and Paperbacks,” Mary describes how her appreciation of both “small press” books and cords of firewood have changed over the years. Have you had the same sort of epiphany in your own life where you have come to look at something familiar or inconsequential in an entirely new light? What was it? What caused the change?

12. Mary has clearly bought into the old “Poppin’ Fresh” slogan that “Nothin’ spells lovin’ like something from the oven…”  In “Home is Where the Chocolate Is,” what does baking sweet treats for her children mean for Mary? What do you think it symbolizes for her kids? Do you think the children even give it a second’s conscious thought before inhaling the cookies? Is there a particular food in your family history that symbolizes love or comfort? What is it?

13. In “A Lioness Passes,” Mary eulogizes her godmother, who never married but influenced many children’s lives in her role as a history teacher with a love of travel. Did you have a teacher or mentor while you were growing up who made a particular difference in your life? How so? How do you think your life would be different without that person’s influence or encouragement?

14. In “Two Hens and a Harley,” a mild autumn ride in the country turns into a comical food fight with two hungry and brazen ducks.  Share how in your own life, some of the best and most memorable times have been the ones you never expected. And by the way, have you ever held a duck in your hands? Tell what it felt like!

15. In “Full Circle,” Mary reflects on the unexpected arc of her life from soccer mom and lawyer’s wife to being a respected attorney in her own right. Have you ever had to “reinvent” yourself? When and why? Did you have a partner or friend who encouraged you? How did your friends and family react to the new course you charted? Were there any costs or losses involved that you had not anticipated? Would you do anything differently if you had to do it over?

16. Is there a lesson to be taken away from this author’s life? What do you think it is, and why do you think it’s important?
(Questions provided courtesay of the author.)

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