July 31, 2016

Books Read Recently

I've been a bit...absent from the blog these past months but I'm hoping I can start it up again and keep it going.

Let's get reacquainted by starting with one of my favourite things - books.

My library card expired in January and I haven't yet had it renewed. 
I was reading everything on my e-reader and I found myself missing paper. 
I wanted to hold the concrete, solid form in my hands to feel as though I was getting through it. Actually accomplishing something. 
(It's nonsense, really. Kind of like how I set a reading challenge for myself every year through Goodreads. 
Why do I bother? 
It's not like I need to "get back into reading" since I haven't had a reading lapse, oh, ever. 
And yet - 50 book goal in 2016! (sigh.)

Regardless, I was enjoying reading printed books again, but for at least one I had to start a second book because the one I was reading was too big to carry on my commute to work (I'm looking at you Goldfinch!) 
I don't usually read more than one book at a time as I find it hard to keep the stories straight but this time I really had no choice so I was able to do it.

I've enjoyed them all for the most part with a hiccup here and there.

It took me a long time to get through this one because, well, it's huge. But I thought it was great. As mentioned above, I couldn't carry it to/fro work so it did take longer than usual but it's such a good story. I was invested in the characters and I didn't know what was going to happen. I bought this book back in December thinking I'd read it over the holidays but the sheer size of it made starting daunting. I'm glad I finally did. Did it deserve the Pulitzer? I can't say. But it was one of the best books I've read this year.

My rating:
★★★★

There has been a lot of hype about this one. My fella picked it up second hand since we'd heard about it on the radio and our interest was piqued. I'd just finished reading The Goldfinch and I needed a break from "epic" stories.  I read this entire book in one day and found it to be a tense, what's-going-to-happen, nail-biter but when I got to the end my first thought was huh? Did I miss something? I went back and read a few pages again but it didn't help. I looked at some of the reviews on Goodreads and some of those readers said the same thing. I don't want to say it wasn't good, I think I just maybe didn't get it? I almost wanted to go back and start over to see what I missed in my race to the finish, but then I realized I didn't care that much. I'd give it a solid meh.

My rating:
★★★
(I'm giving it three stars because it was good enough to keep me reading for an entire Sunday. That's got to get some credit.)

I was in the bookstore buying a gift and they had a deal on that if you bought 3 books you got one free so I knew I couldn't leave without taking advantage of that. I don't know about you, but my mind often goes blank in the bookstore - I have 150 "to-reads" listed on Goodreads but in a pinch I can't remember a single one. 

I had pinned an article of "must reads" for 2016 and this one was in the list.  It stood out because it's a book about ballet. I love books about ballet. When I was little I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up (excessive height and flat feet notwithstanding) so I was interested. But really, I'm not sure that it was "about ballet." 
The main character was a ballet dancer and she teaches the history of dance at a college somewhere as an adult. I waited for it to get better but I started thinking that maybe the person who wrote the "must reads" list was getting some kind of kickback to include it because really - it just wasn't very good. The main character is kind of loathsome and unlikable and I didn't find myself rooting for anything for her but therapy. Not even the ballet parts were very good. Harumph.
My rating:
(harsh, I know. I felt cheated.)

This was the 4th book I bought at the aforementioned sale. When I read reviews of the Iain Reid book, one reviewer said that it was totally overrated and if you wanted to read the other most overrated book of the year, pick up "A Little Life."

And so that brings us here. Another long one that took ages to get through. But as with "The Goldfinch", I loved the story. The character of Jude is heartbreaking and the dedication of his friends and loved ones, is, well, bottomless. This book wasn't what I think of as a "hard read" or overly complicated but I did find it slow at times. (Except for that one section where I started reading in bed around 11 and just couldn't put it down until I'd finished that section and when I finally shut the light it was 12:30. Ugh!)

My one criticism of it was the over-usage of names.
Example: "Jude - what did you think you were doing Jude? Why, Jude, did you think that was necessary? I don't understand you, Jude." (I totally made up those sentences. None of them were in the book.) Did the author love the name Jude? It suits the character really well but the main theme of the story is the depth of the relationships that these people have with each other and, specifically, with Jude. It was just too much and got on my nerves. Other than that - loved it.
My rating: 
★ ★ ★ ★

Fella fell in love with Iain Banks within the past couple of years. This was one of the ones he kept encouraging me to read and I'm glad he did. I don't think I loved it as much as he did, but I did enjoy the story and thought the quality of his writing was excellent. This one is the story of a successful rock star who has lost his way and is thinking of ending his life. It goes back and forth between how he got started and where he is in his current life and how he's become what he now is. 
Enjoyed it. Wouldn't rush to read other Banks books, but there are a couple that Fella endorses so I might give them a spin.
My rating:
★ ★ ★


Those are the books that bedazzled (or not) in recent weeks. I'll be back soon with the next round!



May 08, 2016

my father's ring


I was always tall for my age as a kid and I'm taller than average as an adult.
I came by it honestly.
My father was 6'4".
He came from a family of tall men. 
I like to think that I inherited his hands as well as his height. 

On my last birthday, I spoke on the phone with my oldest sister.
I told her that I'd looked at my baby book because I didn't know what time I had been born. 
She remembers coming to see me in the hospital.
My mother was kept in for a week. 
Not because she was ill,
but because she already had 6 children and her doctor knew she needed a rest. 

My sister said that I was an average weight
but that I had really long fingers.
That I would someday be a piano player. 
(not destined to be. I'm a terrible piano player, alas.)

My father wasn't a big jewelry person. 
He always wore a watch
and his wedding ring.
My mother was the same, and while she did wear other jewellry, 
 her wedding ring never left her finger.

I remember when she was going in for surgeries, 
they would wrap tape around her finger 
because she refused to remove it. 
This is one of many amazing things 
I learned about my mother
that I'm not sure I ever would have had the chance to know
if she hadn't had cancer.
Go figure.

But this is about my dad.
I'm pretty sure he always wore his ring too.
My parents took their partnership seriously. 

Last year, my family went through the unenviable task 
of dividing up my parents' belongings. 
Whatever was left after a long drawn-out battle.
Because there are 7 of us, we had to essentially draw straws on the more coveted items.

Like my parents' wedding rings. 

I'll get to the point. 


I got the rings.

They, and everything else I got, 
went into the basement when we got home.
Packed in the boxes I received them in.
The divvying up process had been painful.
When I lost my dad, 
it felt like I was losing my mother
for a second time. 
The grief was so familiar
but so different at the same time. 
It all came back after 22 years
in startling clarity. 

A month or so ago, I was in a particular mood. 
I don't know what came over me
but I wanted to look in the boxes. 
I was ready to take a few items out.

The rings are in small white plastic cases.
No boxes, or velvet.
No blue.
Just - sleeves, almost.
Envelopes. 
Mum's ring fits the first joint of my ring finger on my left hand 
(are everyone's hands different sizes or is it just me?)
And that's as far as it will go.

Dad's is a bit big,
but it fits.
It was dull. 
He stopped wearing it years ago.
Mum died in 1991 and he had two serious relationships 
in the years that followed
so it make sense that he wouldn't consider himself married anymore
(although I'm pretty sure she was always the love of his life. 40 years married, so.)
Fella looked at the inscription on the inside of the band - 10 carat gold.
It will shine up as you wear it, he said.

I was nervous about wearing it.
Should I take it off when I wash my hands?
When I do anything?

And then I thought -

Dad did everything with that ring on.
Nothing I do is going to bring it harm.

And wearing it?
Felt kind of

wonderful.

Right.

Special.

It's been, as I said, a few weeks.
And I wear it every day.

It makes them feel closer to me.
Even though they are so very far away.
And I think that they may even like
that I'm wearing his ring.

And that it continues on
with the same love
with which it was bought
sixty-four years ago.




January 10, 2016

just one thing





Sometime in November
I realized that multitasking 
is an epic failure.
I admit to being a person who prided themselves on being able to do many things at once.
But back then I didn't have as much responsibility as I do now 
(It's my job that I'm talking about mostly, really.
I suppose I do at home too but the stakes aren't as high
when you're trying to do laundry,
feed the kitties,
and play Boom Beach.)

So I decided to try to do one thing at a time (at work). 
I shut off email notifications.
I cleared my desk except for the item that I'm working on.
I closed my door and ignored it when people knocked.

All of these things seem so simple. 
Straightforward.
But I quickly discovered how hard it is. 

I say that I started doing all of these things
but we are so used to being in five places at once
and being online in five more
and feeling that doing all that makes us better somehow.

So I found that after I cleared my mind and desk 
so I could concentrate - 

 I couldn't.

I started looking for distractions.
I got out my phone.
I looked out the window. 
I stared.

It's hard to stop.

I went back to work last week and didn't do any of those things I listed above.
I felt totally overwhelmed. Like I couldn't even make a to-do list.
(I couldn't make a to-do list.)

But I haven't given up on it entirely.
It's a work in progress.
See, I felt like I wasn't really doing anything well
and that the more I tried to do,
the less I got done.

So now
(sometimes)
I
stop.

Even now as I write this I'm drinking a cup of hot apple cider
and listening to Sigur Ros.
And admittedly, I had my journal out earlier
and started writing in it too.

I don't take enough time to be quiet
and to sort what I'm trying to say
or even, trying to ignore,
most of the time.
So when I do - I try to do it all at once.

When I think of the things I really want to be doing.
When I consider what quality time is for me-
playing video games and watching tv
don't even rank.

This does.
Writing something.
As does spending time with my beloved
and showering my kitties with kisses
(I actually do that a lot.)

But how do we remember?
In the middle
or at the end
of the day?

Where we really want to be?
What we want to be doing?
Just one thing.
Just one thing at a time.

to slow down.
to breathe.
to stop.






January 01, 2016

all is quiet


Much to our surprise, we actually stayed awake until midnight last night.
We spent the evening with friends at their house - had an early dinner (fondue!) 
because their daughter is only 6 and generally goes to bed long before the witching hour.
And so we had our fondue, played a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity (which never disappoints in shock and hilarity) and before we knew it, found ourselves at 11:36pm.

We cracked the champagne,
turned on the tv to Times Square, 
(realized how out of touch I am with pop culture when I couldn't identify any of the hosts
or even Gwen Stefani, for that matter. What's up with her? She looks totally different.)
And quietly ushered in 2016.

We drove home on relatively empty streets and were in bed by 1:15. 
I couldn't tell you the last time I stayed up that late. 
Probably during an evening of talking and whiskey drinking with my brother. 
But I digress, as usual.

Today was quiet too.
Fella went out to his favourite coffee shop to do some writing
I stayed in bed with coffee to finish my book and cuddle the cats.

We decided to head out in the afternoon and go for a walk. 
It had been snowing, still relatively novel since we have had an unseasonably 
(read: wonderful) fall and early winter. 
(I already resent the snow and ice. and wish it gone. It's just so - messy.)
We were both tired so we weren't exactly chomping at the bit to get out
but we thought it would be best for our mental health so we hit the road.
We didn't know where we were going.
We were sure we would find something.
Toronto is a big city and today there was almost no traffic.
Just gigantic snowflakes.

We ended up in the east end of the city,
It was beautiful. 
We were there for a couple of hours.
By the time we got back to the car
my cheeks felt slightly windburned and I was hungry.
We came home, made a pizza and relaxed.

I know. This story is really boring.
What is my point?

It's this -
I'm glad it's a new year.
I decided yesterday that I was done with resolutions. 
They result in disappointment and a sense of failure. 
And who needs that?

But to be honest - there are things I'd like to do this year.
To become. 
But they aren't resolutions.
Just...wishes. 
Or perhaps, promises to myself.
And maybe there's a little hope thrown in, 
to give the whole mix a bit of flavour.

The end of 2015 was hard
and later, I'll maybe say more about that
and how it's left it's mark.
I'm still trying to understand
and to find a place to hold one (terrible) thing that happened.
 I'll let you know where I land.

But happy new year.
2016. 
A lot could happen.
You never know. 




November 18, 2015

choose optimism


This morning was a funny one.
The kittens wake us up at an unmentionable hour - to eat, to play, to be acknowledged. 
All of the above. 

Sometimes I'm a glutton and choose to check the time.
Just to see.
Just to know. 
3:49
a.m.

Normally on Wednesdays I get up at 5:30 to go to the gym. 
But even the night before, when I was packing my bag, I think I knew in my gut that it wasn't going to happen.
My gym attendance has been hit or miss at best for the past few months
I'm trying
but I'm not turning into an athlete anytime soon.
Anyway - 3:49.

Fella is a doll.
He's a terrible sleeper and usually gets up to feed them and lock them out of the bedroom 
so I can get a couple more hours before morning actually arrives.
He gets less sleep than I am but he still does this.
I love him so.

I went back to sleep, he had to work early and at some point the kittens wanted back in
(they will not be ignored. They cry and scratch at the door relentlessly. 

Who can resist them anyway?

No one.
No one can.

I do have a point. 
And that point is that I didn't want to go to the gym even before I went to bed the previous night. 
The perk of this is that I had time to take my time in the morning. 
I got up early and was ready in no time. 
I went in to work early
(because, work, right now, feels like a heavy yoke on my shoulders and my days are long.)

Yesterday was not a good day - I was grumpy and negative and grumpy. 
(two grumpy-s in one sentence means really grumpy.)

So I set out early. 
And it was beautiful
(see photo above.)
It was quiet and the sky was orange.

We have had such a wonderful fall - warm, not too much rain, beautiful colours. 
For November, it hasn't felt much like November at all.
And that's ok. 

My gym skipping set a good tone for my day. 
I was productive and the foul mood was not to be found.
I enjoyed my day, and I don't remember the last time I said that. 
But I did. 

A week or so ago I was walking home from the grocery store 
and I had just finished grumbling under my breath
(about something that now I can't even remember which makes you realize 
it wasn't worth grumping over in the first place)
and I thought -

What is wrong with me?
Why am I so angry?
Stop.

And then I thought of something that I would normally scoff at - 

choose optimism. 
It's Pollyanna, yes, but so much less exhausting than hating on everything 
that rubs you the wrong way. 

This new motto hasn't since always been foremost in my mind,
but it makes me smile when I do remember it
if for no reason other than it sounds

completely

silly.

It takes you out of the moment.
It wakes you up.
It makes you smile.

And that is an improvement.




August 16, 2015

good reads gone bad

I wrote this post months ago and saved it as a draft and then....never did anything with it.
So I'm posting it now. 
Just pretend, for a moment, that it's January
(and then be grateful that it's not and enjoy the stinking hot temperatures of summer.)





For the last two years I've set reading goals for myself. 
I'm an avid user of Goodreads and it's a great source for finding new books,
finding out more about authors you are curious about
and checking out other people who love to read as much as you.

All in all, nothing but good things. 
It's also a great way to remember and keep track of all of the books you've read.

But back to the goals. 
In 2013 I set a goal of reading 50 books
and it was easy. 
I surpassed my goal and I think I finished the year with 60 under my belt.

For 2014, I set a goal of reading 75.
I'll cut to the chase - I didn't meet the goal.

I started to feel like the challenge was a burden. 
Which I guess is common with challenges or goals. 
They become hard
and you want to quit.

I found myself racing through books, so focused on getting through them that I couldn't even tell you what I was reading. 
And then I had a mini-epiphany.

What was I doing? 
People set goals for themselves to accomplish things they think they need to do better
or more of.
To help them make healthier decisions.
I don't have a problem with not reading enough. 
I read a lot and I enjoy it.
Why was I spoiling something that wasn't broken and in need of mending?

I've set many goals and resolutions over the years
but this year, I'm going to opt out of the Goodreads reading challenge.
Because really, the last thing any of us needs is to have our joy taken from us.
 Especially if it's ourselves doing the taking.

So no goal this year.
No pressure.
Just back to the sheer enjoyment that I get
from my love of reading.
No adjustments needed.





P.S. I did not take that photo and because this post is so old, I can't remember where I found it. My apologies to the picture taker.

ready, set, go



How do you catch up after so much time away?

What do you say when you think you may have found your voice again after it was lost?
Where do you start?

I can't, at this moment, even try to say all that has happened since I was last here. 
And I don't know if it really matters - at least not now.

But here's what I do know, 
I feel like the fog that trailed over and around me for the past 22 months has cleared.
I feel older and wiser

and, maybe, free. 

I can't go back.
I can't change the past.
I can only, as I have all along,
let it become part of who I am
for better or worse.

What I also know,
is that it's ok.
I've come out the other side.

I'm ready for what's next.
Go ~