You Can Do It! The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-up Girls

by Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas

Published by Chronicle Books

495 pages, 2005



Lauren's Dream

Reviewed by Monica Stark


I think it's possible that You Can Do It! is the first book to be written posthumously. That is to say, the author died before the book was written. Which is anyone's idea of a pretty neat trick.

Here's what happened: gobsmacked at the loss of their sister, Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, on United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, Vaughn Catuzzi Lohec and Dara Catuzzi Near brought to life a book Lauren had envisioned. An idea that Lauren, a former girl scout had had about a book that would "boost women's self-esteem by helping them achieve their goals, realize their dreams, and embrace life's joys and challenges to the fullest."

You Can Do It!: The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-Up Girls is bundled up like a mentoring program in a book. Imagine a dream or ambition or self-indulgence and it's likely here in You Can Do It! along with information on how to make it happen in your own life.

Let's say your dream is to fly a plane (as in fly it yourself, not simply buying cheap tickets). First, meet your mentor. In this case it's Deanna Strand, the owner and operator of Strand Flying School in Grand Junction, Colorado. After we meet Deanna and learn a bit about her, we're taken through the "badge steps" on learning to fly. And though step one is "Find a flight instructor" there's quite a bit more to it than that, as well.

Not all dreams are quite so lofty nor do they all involve the money and energy required to learn to fly. For example, getting well-read would appear to be a more gentle dream and one that's, ultimately, just as enriching. (And though a book won't get you over a traffic jam, it might just get you through one.)

Our mentor in becoming well read is Cathy Langer, a buyer at Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado who has clearly given careful thought to her topic, an admittedly potentially subjective one. That is, unlike something as straightforward as finding someone to teach you, in order to become well read, Cathy instructs us first to discover what those words mean to us before we can angle to make our dream come true.

Learning to knit and quilt and sew. Learning to make a film, walk on fire and to paint. Learning a new language, how to cook and how to dance. And learning, first of all, how to dream.

You Can Do It! works on several levels. In the first place it's very nice to have basic information on all of these activities more or less under one roof. Perhaps 60 activities are tackled here in a concise and positive way. Though the book would make a great gift -- or self gift -- it might also provide a life primer for very young woman. A literal expression of all that is available to them at a time when they're still making those important early decisions.

It's lovely, also, to have the words and a piece of the expertise of all of these women between two covers. If you read You Can Do It! for the mini-profiles alone, it would be worth it. A great group of women, interestingly presented.

Finally, the book succeeds as a heartfelt tribute to Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, her vision and her life. | June 2005


Monica Stark is a January Magazine contributing editor.