Tuesday, May 4, 2021

And Another Move . . . (It's Not What You're Thinking)

I missed my regular Monday posting. You might not have noticed, but I did, and now here I am, a day late, to tell you why. I have a good reason for my tardiness, and it's also going to be a reason for keeping the post short today. I'm compensating with a few What I Wore photos because many of you seem to like those. 

So. . . here I am, in bare feet and new linen pants, just to tell you that I am embarking on a little adventure with the blog. . . .

A few weeks ago, those of us who use Blogger learned that the email subscription service, Feedburner,  is being discontinued in July. Since many of you read the blog this way, and I would be very sad to lose touch with you, I was dismayed. And annoyed, and a bit panicky -- and then dismayed, again -- about what I should or could do. And then I worked my way through all the usual questions about maintaining the blog. 

And came to a resolution. 

So this week, if all goes as I hope, the blog will shift from Blogger to WordPress, so it will look different (I have no idea yet what it will look like, having only just initiated the process), and I will be investing some funds to have it hosted.  (Blogger has been free, and I have much appreciated my almost 15 years here, but services being subtracted from, rather than added to, the platform is not a good sign.)  I still have no intention of commercializing, although might eventually consider ways to cover my costs. For the moment, it looks as if they're comparable to other hobby costs, and I will absorb them as I adjust to the new terrain.

Pockets! We Haz Pockets!!


Mostly, I'm telling you this now in case something goes wrong and you can't find me via your usual route. You can always find me on Instagram; I'll be posting my April reading on my book blog soon; and if there are problems I might ask a blogging friend or two to help me out by pointing the way to readers. But many bloggers have done this before me with no problems at all, so . . . taking a deep breath and getting on with it. 

I'm told that my post will be here, as normal, for you to comment on while changes are being made behind the scenes, and I'd love some encouragement, maybe a bit of hand-holding. . . I imagine a big moving truck, each of my posts being wrapped carefully, tucked into a box, the boxes carried up the ramp into the capacious back of the track where they're stacked one on top of another... That way, I don't have to imagine all the posts, virtual and invisible as they are, made of electrical impulses difficult to visualize, simply dissipating in the ether, gone. . . .Yikes!

So wish me luck; I'll be here wishing fervently to see you next Monday and walk you 'round my new digs. Until then,

xo,

f

Friday, April 30, 2021

Once Upon a Time -- Five Years Ago. . . .

 Five years ago March, we listed our island home for sale; five years ago, April, I made an announcement here on the blog that we'd sold it. 

And shortly afterward, I posted again to explain how/why we'd originally moved -- with three of our four kids, then 10-17 --  to a waterfront cabin on a small island off a big island (Vancouver Island) in the Salish Sea. I called this post "How We Got Here, Why We're Leaving, Part the First. . . (and yes, there is a second post as well, and I'll share that with you here in a few days). 

So we'll have been in this home five years come September. Ah, that was a summer of transition, Summer 2016! . . . And to mark the anniversary, I thought I'd repost "How We Got Here, Why We're Leaving" in its entirety, right here, rather than linking. . .  

Here it is:

So many ideas for posts, this move is triggering, even while we're only at the first stage of waiting for our home to be sold (in case you're curious, yes, there is some action but it would be tempting fate to say much more than that, I think). Today, though, I'm going to answer a question from another Ceri, her namesake's comment having already propelled another post. Ceri in London wondered why we are moving from a home we obviously love, and she speculates that it might have "something to do with the stage of life and the choices we have to make as income reduces and our children become more settled." 

Okay, yes, I began this post a couple of weeks ago, but was too tired, busy, or conflicted emotionally, to finish it. Today, I've dusted off the draft, realised it's pretty close and that any more stalling will soon render it stale-dated. So here you go. 


The short answer would be that Ceri is right and the move has to do with this stage of life. But if you'll indulge me, I'll give you a longer answer. What I hope to explain is why, when we knew we wanted to be back in the city for our last few decades, if not earlier, why did we make such a long detour through a small city that (if we'd been more rigorously honest, if we hadn't been so thoroughly seduced by one tiny island) we knew all along we'd have to leave. . .   

A brief summary seems necessary first: we both grew up in small cities near Vancouver, and we bought our first home in one of those cities when we were Oh! So! Young! (24 and 26, respectively, our daughter only 1). We sold that home to move, for my husband's work, to a very small city (population 17,000,  140-kilometres to next real dot on the map, a town of 11,000) a 1000-kilometre, two-day drive from our families only three years later, and although we came to embrace small-town life and made many good friends in our seven years there, we visited our families "down South" (as the local geography had it) often, and our kids somehow were always oriented to city life. We've often wondered if my husband should have held out a bit longer for a promotion or transfer to Vancouver rather than accepting a transfer to the Vancouver Island city of 60,000 that became our next home. In fact, he was invited to apply for such a position within six months of our settling in to our new home, by which time, of course, we weren't willing to uproot the kids again, and our life here has been so rich that we don't regret the long detour. 

Our first home here was in an area that still featured some rural zoning, but was transitioning to subdivisions. Cows grazed in a field across the street; a lone horse leaned over a fence into the playground at the kids' community school; and we could walk to a beach, cutting through forest paths on the way, in fifteen minutes. Our kids spread themselves out in various grades at that elementary school, but the community grew so quickly that, besides pastures being replaced by cul-de-sacs, the daughter who had to take a bus to high school her first three years transferred to a beautiful new school back in the 'hood, built to accommodate all the families moving into the area. The growth meant that my music studio always had a waiting list, and it also meant that there was abundant community support for all those activities kids take on: I could share driving for swimming lessons, gymnastics, piano lessons, soccer practice and away games.  Much as I was grateful, though, for a network of families with similar commitment to their children's development, the ever-so-slight coercive sense of subdivision life began to grate. (One Christmas, for example, our eight-year-old daughter was surprisingly thrilled at one of my siblings' gift of a set of water and juice glasses and asked if she could be the one to put them in the cupboard -- because, she said, happily setting them in place one by one, "Now we have all matching glasses in the proper cupboard like all my friends." . . . poor, previously deprived child. . . )

Gradually, that dissonance became more pronounced, and although I was happily, if busily, juggling my music-teaching with my kid-chauffeuring with completing my B.A. at the local uni, we occasionally admitted that once the kids eventually moved on, our home's location was too random, really, to believe it could be our "forever home." Not that we articulated such a concept so precisely, but we had come to the city for only one reason, my husband's work, and it began to appear that there wouldn't be enough steps on the ladder here to accommodate his potential. For a while, we both scratched our itchy ambitions through education: I finished my BA and started an MA, and he did an MBA designed to accommodate executives working full-time. Those were crazily busy years.

And during those years, our mortgage got very close to being paid off. As well, while admitting that a big-city move might be best for career advancement, the kids were thriving, for now.  Somehow, then, our restlessness got displaced into looking at recreational property, and somehow (a story for another long post, someday!) we discovered a waterfront cottage just within our financial grasp, and somehow, two years, after buying it, we decided to consolidate our lives in a NE-facing, 800-square-foot cabin. Again, fodder for another long post, all the commuting we then did, kids to school and soccer games and part-time jobs; me to Vancouver, then Victoria, for grad school; Paul to a new job in Vancouver and then a much bigger commute to Ottawa. . . If we hadn't found this home (which we renovated into a more reasonable 1700 square feet, with an additional 300 in a guest cottage),  we probably would have moved to Vancouver, perhaps even to Ottawa for a while. 

But as challenging as the logistics of island life undoubtedly were, the charms of a beautiful setting, a tight-knit community so safe that kids could head out to meet their friends sometime after breakfast, call in for sandwiches a few hours later, and show up for dinner dirty but happy . . . Not to mention swimming in the ocean fifty feet from our front door, gathering on the beach with neighbours to admire passing orcas. . . We lived in our first house for three years, the second for seven, the third for eight, and then, somehow, this place we bought on a crazy impulse 24 years ago this fall has been our full-time home for 21 years.

One by one, of course, the kids moved on. One daughter and her then-boyfriend/now-husband moved into the guest cottage for a year while both went to university the year before she headed off to grad school; my son, our youngest, moved away for a gap year before university, then back home, then a few stutters away and back for co-op terms before the nest was completely empty. My husband worked a few years on the other side of the country, then a few more across the (Georgia) Strait, while I stayed in place so that the kids could finish up high school, then university here in town, meanwhile getting my Master's, then my PhD, then landing a position right in the university here in town. Thus even after Pater retired five years ago, even though the kids were obviously settling in the big city, beginning to raise their own kids, it made sense to stay here until I was ready to retire.

We'd bought the apartment over in the city when Pater landed a promotion there ten or so years ago,and buying a place in an upwardly-trending market made more sense than renting, especially since the kids began gravitating there. Increasingly, I'd be packing up on Thursday or Friday night, trying to remember everything I'd need for an urban weekend, lugging stacks of marking and materials to be prepped. We called it "the best of both worlds," and it was, but bit by bit, the back-and-forth grew a bit wearying. When we were in the city, I crammed my work into early morning and late evening hours, and all the rest seemed to be spent catching up with the younger generations. A treat, absolutely, but when we got back to our island home, we were happy to collapse in our big leather armchairs by the woodstove.

In fact, between my work, which tended to chew up weekends and evenings during term, and Pater's numerous contracts and the several boards he serves on, any social life on this side of the pond languished, and really, on the other side, we only socialised with family.  The ride from town to island in our very reliable commuter boat only takes ten minutes, but during the long winter months, there's not much appeal crossing in the dark, especially if it's raining and blowing hard, or if the docks are treacherous with ice. Over the years we've become less and less willing to do that crossing, and when we're on the island, we tend to stay home of an evening, October through March. Not a problem when I was working and either had marking or prep to do or was glad enough for the respite of a Netflix binge, but we're beginning to want a bit more activity. 

Similarly, when I was working, my social energies tended to be exhausted by my students, and I didn't mind so much that we declined many weekend invitations because we were planning to visit the kids in Vancouver. But part of the sadness that's been hitting me the last few years is tied into the huge difference between the rich friendships I nurtured much more carefully before teaching full-time and the ones whose potential I've only tenuously grasped lately.  Moving up my retirement date was at least partly motivated by a determination to give more to friendships, both old and new. 

There are certainly people our age living on our little island who manage very active social lives here with a rich complement of hobbies and interests, many of which they pursue "in town," happily commuting by boat, even on those dark winter evenings. But having raised four children who chose to live "away," we now have five grandchildren growing up in places that require a minimum half day's travel, round-trip.  If even two of those grandkids were living in town, we'd probably stay here, but their parents have good jobs and full lives in cities we like.  We're the ones with flexibility now, so with the logistics of that travel growing more wearing, we decided definitively a few years ago that once I retired, we'd give ourselves two to five years to enjoy the island together, at a more relaxed pace, and then move to Vancouver. . .

Next up, a (much shorter, I promise) post about why, having decided to have at least a couple of years together enjoying a slower-paced island life, did we put the house on the market, setting in motion a period of our lives that is not characterised by the words "enjoying" or "slower-paced."

Meanwhile, though, as always, your comments are welcome. I'm curious to know how many of you have relocated for similar reasons. I'd always marveled at people who move across the country to a city or town where they knew no one but their own adult child's family. The uprooting from their own lives seemed so drastic to me, and yet I could see that most often, these moves were happy ones with new social lives established, new activities adopted, new nests feathered. Our move will not be nearly as drastic, moving to a city we've had lifelong ties to, but I'm still feeling a bit apprehensive about making sure we establish fulfilling, interesting, joyful lives independent of our children and grandchildren. So your experience would be appreciated. I'm also happy to share what we find along the way, for those of you who anticipate similar moves down the road.

But now, it's time for yoga. Namaste!

In case you're curious about the many comments this post generated the first time, here's the link to the original.

No yoga for me this morning, five years later, give or take a couple of weeks. I've already done a workout (Arms and Abs, oof!) hoping for the endorphins. Not sure those arrived, but I did work up an appetite. And it so happens I also baked some coconut oatmeal cookies (to use up the Sweetened Shredded Coconut Paul bought by mistake). A dangerous response to a low mood, I know, but sometimes needs must, right? I'll have a big bowl of healthy vegetable soup first, promise. . . 

Wishing you all a Good Weekend -- leave a comment below if you have a moment. I'm curious to know how many of you were here reading five years ago, whether or not that timeline surprises you, whether any of you have made big transitions in your own lives since then. And those of you who have shown up here more recently,  I suppose I'm curious to know if this glimpse into my previous life changes your perception of me. 

Or, as usual, any comment the post evokes, except the nasty and the blatantly commercial. 

xo,
f

Monday, April 26, 2021

Keeping It Real: In the Kayak and Out

 Time for a "Keeping It Real" post. . . 

Why?

Because last Tuesday, I went paddling with my husband. He's been biking down to the marina and putting his kayak in the water at least twice a week all through the winter. I've felt no temptation to join him -- nor any guilt, or disappointment with myself, that I'm not -- all those rainy or cold days.  Following an online workout on the mat I unroll between the piano and the dining table seemed the more efficient option, done in 45 minutes and no raingear required. Never mind anxieties about getting in or out of the kayak from the steep-ish, often algae-slippery boat ramp. (just Keeping It Real: they are small anxieties, but persistent)


But we've had a good run of lovely Spring weather (over for the moment, sadly; it's been raining steadily all morning), and as Paul headed out to the kayak for the third morning in a row, I realized I was a bit envious, possibly even feeling left-out. I have an open invitation to join him, yes, but besides the "small anxieties" involved in getting my kayak into the water, I'm very protective of my solitary time at home. And perhaps also protective of those lists. Homework for Italian class; Working on an assignment for a Sketching class; Writing and sending cards or letters; Finishing a book; Catching up my Reading Journal; Writing a blogpost; Doing a Workout. . . 

Still, the better choice on a sunny Spring Tuesday was evident. I invited myself on the morning's outing, and after a quick breakfast Paul loaded two paddles instead of one into his cross-body case.  Bike helmets securely fastened, we grabbed our bikes from their lockers and pedalled the few kilometres to the marina. Unlocked the kayaks, hauled them the few hundred metres down to the water, and locked the bikes up in their place. Honestly, at this point I begin to feel I've already had a workout, but no complaints on Tuesday. Blue skies, just the slightest breeze, and surprising warmth in the sunshine. 

I took a picture of him as he was taking a picture of me. Except that it took me about two seconds and thirty seconds later, my neck was getting sore trying to face his lens. . . .

And my apprehensions about getting into the boat on the ramp's decline were quickly stilled, thanks to a recent scrubbing that's eliminated most of the slippery algae.  Paul helped me lower the rudder, its pulley tending to sticky, and then he headed back for his kayak and I paddled mine away from shore, noting with quiet pleasure how quickly the kinaesthetic memory molded my body to the seat's contours, shifted my weight to match the water's movement. I felt so comfortable, in fact, that while waiting for Paul to return I took my phone out and made a short video telling prospective viewers where I was and what I was doing. 

When we got home, I posted that video on Instagram, and I invited "followers" to paddle with me vicariously on my Instagram Story via photos I'd taken from the kayak as Paul and I paddled out into English Bay.  Then, for the 24 hours that the Story was viewable, I fielded responses. Some of these simply expressed pleasure at the sight of our city from the vantage of the water, an attractive skyline backed by snow-capped mountains against a blue sky. Some mentioned being envious, and/or inspired to get themselves to the water soon as well, or just wishing it were possible. And many responses shared their fear of being in or on the water -- and remarked on my bravery or athleticism. . . Enough of these responses that I began to picture myself as A Badass Woman! (A Badass Older Woman, which might be even more Badass, right?)

See the "meta" here? I've got my camera (phone) in my hand in his photo of me, and ditto in my photo (above) of him.

But if you've been reading here for a while, you know how I feel about Badassery. If you missed my ruminations and rants on the topic, you could catch up here and here. A very brief recap, though, would be that I deplore and resent the idea that we're either Warriors or Princesses. And when "Princess" is used this way, the term is not referring to feminist revisions (or recoveries) of a Princess's potential, nor does it refer to any historical or contemporary representations. It's used to point at those of/among us who appear hesitant, passive, or indulgent -- and those who are anxious or fearful by nature or in response to experience. 

I'm not sure where my own anxieties and fears around a range of physical, primarily outdoors, activities began (although I know my elementary school P.E. teacher played a big part). I know I regularly biked or roller-skated down an exhilaratingly steep hill toward a busy cross street when I was 10, 11, or 12. . . but also that I only forced myself, at 12 or 13, to jump from the high diving board because my younger siblings were leaping from it gleefully. I managed twice: the first time, I could only climb along the board on my hands and knees, work myself into a sitting position at its end, and squiggle toward a drop -- only because we weren't allowed to climb back down the ladder, and because a line of eager divers were yelling at me to hurry up. I'm not sure why I thought I'd do any better the second time. Instead, I re-enacted the embarrassment. Hands-and-knees, then sit, then squiggle, then drop.  Twice in ten minutes, and then never again.

Over the years here, I've written a number of posts about experiencing, confronting, and sometimes overcoming fears: hiking heights; solo cycling; solo travel; and, most recently, last September on one of our last regional getaways, of kayaking Sechelt Inlet just before a storm.  Tuesday's outing was the first time I've been out in the kayak since last September, and honestly, I'd forgotten that episode completely, and for the hour we were out on the water I was A Happy Paddler! Fresh, slightly salty air, gorgeous views all around, a variety of watercraft to admire and avoid and weave around, calm water enlivened just enough by the occasional wake of a shuttling Water Taxi. 


Even heading back to that ramp -- steeper now because the tide had dropped -- I wasn't too apprehensive letting Paul go ahead, get out, drag his boat up the ramp, and then wait at the edge of the water to help me disembark. I expected it to be awkward and was mentally rehearsing the exit, worried a bit about stiffened hips, but my self-talk was encouraging. . . until he introduced a new plan. Instead of lining up the kayak parallel to the water's edge, he grabbed the rope at the bow and pulled it straight up the ramp. Now, the kayak's stern was in the water and the boat was on a slant up the hill. My feet were higher up that hill than my back, and I have to tell you, that did not feel like any kind of a power position. 

Also, in case you don't know this, while the bottom of a kayak does have a flat centre strip, that grounded surface is not particularly wide. If you're sitting in it on land, it will rock in response to your movement. If you have stiff hips (and they will be stiffer after sitting for an hour, paddling) and are apprehensive about placing a first foot onto slippery concrete (slippery sloping concrete; I really want to emphasize the slope again!), and there is a body of thoroughly wet water right behind you. . . . Well, Some of Us get cranky when we're fearful. One of Us did. . . .One of Us (the one who's definitely Not a Badass) got very annoyed that someone who was supposed to help us instead set up a tricky test at the end of what had otherwise been a very successful and enjoyable morning.

I did get out of the boat, and I did it without falling over onto the concrete and breaking my shoulder or wrist or elbow (various joints and limbs were possibilities in my panicky imagination), nor did I land back in the water (realistically, that never would have happened, but again, panicky imagination).  I did require a hand, and also if I remember correctly, a push from behind at one point, and probably a stabilizing hold as I eventually became upright. It was all very awkward and, I imagined, terrifically entertaining for any onlookers (I imagined many).

The sharp-eyed among you might recognize the red sculpture in the photo above as the one featured in this post

So Words were consequently Had. We Had Words. Who knows? I might have had more words than he did, and some of mine should have stayed in my back pocket (my son's Grade Four teacher introduced this term to my lexicon: back-pocket language, because she understood that sometimes these words got used on the playground at recess, but it was important to tuck them away in your back pocket when you came back to the classroom).

And the Helper felt aggrieved because he had, obviously (I say that in considered retrospect) only been trying to find an easier way (it took some time, but he has now admitted to me, several times -- I might have insisted on the several times -- that it was a really dumb idea). . . and, well, I forget where we had planned to pedal to after that, some pleasant café terrace for coffee outside on a gorgeous day, but instead I huffed off home and he went for coffee. . . 

He sent an apologetic text an hour later, and we seemed to reconcile over lunch. After all, as he pointed out, it was just a small fragment of an otherwise great morning. . . But. . . Whoops! Did any of you feel that too? Small fragment. Uh. Nope. It would have been a small fragment . . . . If I'd been Badass! Which we know I'm Not! Turns out that small moment was still rankling, probably because it triggered a lifetime of small moments. . . Which, in turn, triggered another prolonged afternoon and evening of marital discord, and it's even possible that one of us Let the Sun Set on her Anger (except it wasn't really anger, but fear and frustration).  . .


It's too late to say "To make a long story short," isn't it? But I will finally cut to the chase to say that I woke the next morning determined to try again, just as I'd done decades earlier after that first embarrassing drop off the high diving board at the Kiwanis pool. 

Happily, a second attempt yielded better results at 60-something than my almost-teen self experienced. The water wasn't as calm as it had been the day before, but the weather was equally glorious as we paddled east (rather than Tuesday's west). . . and when we were back at that ramp an hour later, the tide noticeably lower than for my previous extraction, Paul didn't try any fancy "assists," nor did I waste time panicking. I doubt I will ever love heaving my lower body through the relatively narrow cockpit onto a relatively irregular or unreliable surface. But I can dial back my subjective assessment of all those "relatively"s and dial up my (reasonable) confidence in my body's strength and competence and my (also reasonable) confidence that my husband's subjective assessment is (mostly) working with my safety and abilities in mind. 


I've bolded the last part of that paragraph to emphasize how non-Badass I am. At least, in my conception of the term. I imagine true Badasses don't waste time or energy on such calculations.  As I wrote in that post about our paddle in pre-storm Sechelt Inlet last September,  Enjoyed myself so much . . .  that I felt foolish about momentarily succumbing to near-hysteria earlier. . . but also accepting that, given I'm 67 and I haven't shoved the fears away yet, I might just settle for knowing that this is my pattern, my process. 

That slogan "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" seems too sloppily general to me, too all-embracing. Surely there are instructive, useful fears; surely some activities one shouldn't "Do Anyway." But I concede that "Evaluate your Fear and if it's not objectively reasonable by measurable standards, Then Maybe Try Cautiously to Overcome It in a Series of Small Steps" doesn't have quite the resounding ring required to incite action.  . . I don't think anyone's going to call me Badass Nana anytime soon. 


So there you have it. A Keeping It Real post -- both on the gritty reality of long-term marriages in which supposedly small incidents can trigger long and unhappy arguments and on the reality of the clumsy and panicky exits obscured by those picture-postcard Instagram images of a Badass Older Woman in her kayak (yeah, sorry, I just can't keep a straight face when I say this).

I'd love to read your comments on anything here that resonates with you. I'm also thinking about a future post which might consider our collective and individual relationship to fear as we age -- and how that affects our physical activity. Thoughts? The mic's all yours. . . . 






Monday, April 19, 2021

Spring! Dress, Garden, Snailmail -- and a Few Good Books!

 If you're not spending all your time in the garden these Spring days (or raking up leaves and chopping firewood, if you're in the other hemisphere), today's post comprises my report on the books I read in March, and you might find a title or two for your To Be Read lists. . .

But before I share that report with you, because it's the duplicate of a post some of you may already have seen last week on my book blog, Materfamilias Reads, I'm including a few Non-book photos for a bit of "added value." When I posted my January reading here, in early February, the "value added" consisted of taking you for a virtual walk in the snow.  I'm glad to say that we won't be doing that today!

Instead, here's a Selfie I took in the mirror last week before heading out on my afternoon walk -- without a sweater, never mind a jacket. Also missing? tights!! And I'm wearing a favourite dress, bought on sale at the end of last summer -- in a different city, when we could still travel a bit. That was the last time I hugged a Five and a Two, who have since become a Six and a Three. . . Sigh. . . 

If you look carefully in the photo above, you can see my fellow's reflection -- from the doorway to the garden terrace. . . We've been spending hours out there planting and pruning and tidying up . . . and sitting and reading and sipping tea, eating breakfasts, lunches, dinners. Such an expansive season, is Spring, so much optimism in the sunshine. . . 

I have SO many garden photos I could show you, but this will already be a long post. . . Perhaps I'll publish a second one this week just to take you 'round the various blooms and shoots. 

But I really thought that my photo of these hosta leaves finally pushing aside the covering of leaf mulch to stretch into the morning sunshine captured Spring's renewal and optimism. 

My last photo before I get to the books is a shot of the envelope I sent off to a Big Sister and Little Brother this week with one of my handmade Teddy Bear Tea Party cards inside.  Funny to think that a decade ago I would have been absolutely sure that I could not draw a decent teddy bear nor add a teacup and teapot for him to pour and drink from. This old dog has learned a trick or two. . . ;-)

And there ends the supplemental material to my Book post. If you're looking for reading recommendations, I hope you'll find something that appeals in my account of Books I Read in March.


March Reading:

17. Siberian Haiku  Jurge Vile; Illustrator, Lina Itagaki; Translator, Jura Avizienis. Graphic novel; Autofiction; historical fiction; YA/children's literature; 
18. The Alice Network, Kate Quinn. Historical fiction; Spy novel; romance; strong female protagonist; WWII
19. The Midnight Library, Matt Haig. Speculative fiction; sci-fi; philosophical fiction; depression/suicide; possibilities of life
20. The Wild Silence, Raynor Wynn. Memoir; Writing; Adventure; Outdoor Life; Illness; Spouse with Illness; Environmental Writing; Iceland; Hiking
21. White Ivy, Susie Yang, Contemporary fiction; thriller; romance; immigrant narrative; class/ethnicity/gender; American society
22. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, V.E. Schwab, Fantasy; Gothic; romance; historical fiction
23. Il n'est jamais trop tard pour éclore: Carnet d'une Late Bloomer, Catherine Taret. Memoir; self-help
24. The Searcher, Tara French. Mystery/thriller; Set in rural Ireland
25. Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga. Literary fiction; bildungsroman (coming-of-age); adolescent girl; (post-) colonialism; Africa; Zimbabwe; education
26. Unto Us a Son Is Given, Donna Leon. Mystery; set in Venice, Commissario Brunetti series

The first book in my March reading list was a serendipitous choice of a book I'd never heard of before, simply because the cover caught my eye from the New Books shelf at the neighbourhood branch of Vancouver Public Library.  I regularly tell myself that I should read more (some!) graphic novels, and this one's cover illustration and its title (Haiku? in Siberia? how? why?) intrigued me

My Reading Journal entry for this book begins at the bottom of the photographed page . . . 

It may be that the target audience for the story of a family's WWII deportation from Lithuania to Siberia is children and young adults, say from 11 or 12 years and older, but I was engaged and moved and entertained and informed in so many ways throughout.  Despite the bleak historical content, the writing and images collaboratively construct a story full of warmth and humour, hope and joy, while never shirking the responsibility of witnessing the deprivation and insults and horrors experienced.


My Instagram post for this book includes a few more favourite pages.
Highly recommended, both for you and, perhaps, your children or grandchildren or young friends of an age mature enough to cope with the realities depicted.

The next book I read, Kate Quinn's The Alice Network, was also historical fiction, also set during World War II . . .

As I wrote in my Reading Journal, I've long been wary of fiction that draws on war as a background for its narrative. This novel didn't overcome that reservation, as you can read below, but I nonetheless found some merit in it, particularly in the strong female characters who defied social conventions for women of their day.




The 19th title of my year's reading was Matt Haig's The Midnight Library. Tough to assign genre to this one with its mixture of  philosophy, quantum physics, a Borgesian library and a suicidally depressed young woman wondering what it might mean to live a happy life.  

There were a few points when I was on the verge of thinking it might become tiresome, overly tendentious, but instead I found it, overall, suprisingly charming, restorative even. 
Posted about it on Instagram as well.

And I think I'd read it all again, simply for this page. . . 


Raynor Winn's The Wild Silence, is a book I bought -- in hardcover yet! -- on the strength of Winn's first book, the marvellous The Salt Path. I've heard from other readers who were disappointed by her second title, so I suppose I began reading with lowered expectations.

And although I read the first few chapters waiting to catch Winn's rhythm, to see where she was taking us this time, I was soon enough caught up in the memoir -- which turns out to be as much prequel as follow-up to The Salt Path (something of a "the making/writing of").  She recounts the process of deciding what she might do after the grand adventure of walking the path 'round England's southwest coast. At that point, she and Moth, her terminally ill husband, had only a temporary home and little idea what the future would hold, beyond Moth trying to complete a teaching degree at the local university.  Tentatively, Ray begins to write and in so doing, confronts her shyness, tracing some of it back to her childhood and recognizing as she does so the strength she'd always drawn from nature and from books.  And she traces the long arc of her still-passionate love affair with a man whose strength she sees diminish daily.

I won't tell you anymore, except to say that if beautifully observant, lyrical environmental writing appeals to you as much as narratives about women in their 50s realizing their strength and transforming their lives, add this one to your list. Oh, and if you want a bit of adventure as well? What about a strenuous back-packing hike through Iceland by a couple in their 50s, one of whom has a terminal, degenerative, neurological illness? Or the restoration of a dilapidated old farmouse, cider mill and apple orchard?

I put Susie Yang's White Ivy on hold at my library after seeing it recommended as a thriller; I have to say that it's so much more than this. Or perhaps, more fairly, it stretches the possibilities of what "a thriller" can be or do -- this novel also explores identity and intersectionality (race, gender, class, ethnicity)  and immigration and American society! Very impressive debut, and I'll be watching for other titles from this author (who, at 32, already has a doctorate in pharmacy and a tech start-up on her CV -- author interview here.)
My Instagram post here.

I think I learned about V.E. Schwab's The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue on my niece's Instagram account, Pages_and_Pinots. I'd say this is not a genre I usually read, but in the last year (blame or credit a certain pandemic!), I've read and enjoyed books by Jess Kidd and Alice Hoffman and Erin Morgenstern. And I enjoyed Addie LaRue very much as well; perhaps it's a bit bloated, but most readers will want every page of the 300-year-old Addie's life. A gripping and indulgent novel to hunker down with next rainy day or take to your favourite hammock on a sunny one.
See my Instagram post  for an example of the many felicitous metaphors in this novel.

Catherine Taret's self-help memoir Il n'est jamais trop tard pour éclore: Carnet d'une late bloomer was on my list as a way to practise my French, and it did that. But if I'd picked up It's Never Too Late to Hatch: A Late Bloomer's Notebook in English, I probably wouldn't have read beyond the first chapter.  I'm not the target audience, but if you're well-educated, white, bourgeois, 30s/40s, attractive and serially monogamous with sufficient funds for extensive therapy and self-help workshops, and frustrated that you haven't figured out what you want to be yet. . . . 

I don't need to tell you, do I, that Tana French's mystery novels are always very good? If you don't know them, you might want to begin with her Dublin murder squad books, but The Searcher (a stand-alone set in rural Dublin) could also be a good introduction. 
See my Instagram post for a favourite passage and for other readers' comments about this book.
The 25th novel I read this year will probably feature in my Top Five for 2021. Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions was first published in 1988,  and is regularly acclaimed as an important book in the African literary canon. If you're looking for novels that will deepen your knowledge and understanding of post-colonial Africa and particularly of African women's lives, this coming-of-age story set in late 60s rural Zimbabwe provides a complex, nuanced, and compelling narrative that challenges and subverts stereotypes. 
My Instagram posts here and here

Highly recommended, and I'm currently reading Dangarembga's  Booker-nominated The Mournable Body which brings these characters back some twenty years later. But I'll tell you about that next month. For now, I need to focus on finishing this post before April's half done (I have one more day!).


Last March entry in my Reading Journal is Donna Leon's Unto Us a Son Is Given, the 28th volume in her Commissario Brunetti series.  I posted a too-close-for-comfort passage on Instagram.

And that's it for this month. . . . at least, that's it for my reading, but what about yours? Can we talk books? Share titles? Compare responses? Have you read any of the books I've mentioned here? Agree or disagree with what I've written? Have "reads well with" suggestions? All comments welcome (well, unless you're going to tell me about bargain sunglasses or some magical medical aid or such. Those will only be deleted).

Monday, April 12, 2021

Five (no, Six; okay, Seven) Things I'm Doing This Sunny Spring Monday . . .


Not sure where the anxiety's coming from, but it's really messing with my sleep these nights, and this morning I'm relying on some tried-and-true calming activities -- formulaic but still productive enough to quell the inner nags. . . 

For example, I'll be

 1. Baking a couple of sesame seed-coated, walnut-studded sourdough loaves, so the condo is filling with a calming, nourishing fragrance as I write.

2. Knitting the chest and belly of another little teddy bear, sixth small knit "familiar" I've made for my grandchildren (two mice; four bears). A polar bear is still in transit; a mouse awaits a sweater and cap; but three wee beasts (two bears and a mouse) have been joyfully welcomed by their human buddies. . . 


3. Prowling 'round the pots on the terrace to see what the sun might open or pull out of the ground or unfurl on a branch this week.  I have my eye on a big blue hosta as well as on the clutches of apple blossoms climbing the trunk of our small Scarlet Sentinel. . .





4. Writing my monthly Books Read post for my Reading Blog; I'm tardy with March's report, but I hope to have that up by Wednesday, and I'll post it here later in the week.

5. Finishing one more short story (by Dino Buzzati) for Italian Book Club this evening.

I was going to stop at Five, but I can't help. . . 

6. Remembering that two years ago, at this time, we were in Haarlem, our first stop in a ten-week trip to Europe.  If you'd like a few minutes of vicarious travel (tulips and bikes and brickwork architecture -- even a windmill!), here's a link to my post. I think I'm going to haul out my travel journal and sketchbooks for that trip.  If you hear loud, wistful sighing, it's probably me. . . .

and Six should be enough but

7. It's the best kind of spring day here this morning -- still crisp but all blue skies and sunshine. I'm going to get out for a walk later and I might even end up unbuttoning my jacket. . . .

That's it. I'll stop there . . . but if you should make "Comment on this Post" one of the Things You Do Today, I'll be sure to read it, even if I won't get 'round to commenting until later. . . C'mon; tell me what you're up to. How's this Monday treating you? (or Tuesday, if that's when you read this. . . heck, chime in if you're a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or weekend reader; all are welcome here)

xo,

f


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Bringing the Outdoors In . . . In to my Sketch Journal, that is. . .

 

I told you I'd be back soon to share a couple of pages from my sketchbook, and here I am. . . 

I've been getting outside more often lately, thanks in part to the good weather, thanks in part to that 10,000 daily steps March challenge I did.  To Spring as well, coaxing all the new growth out of the ground and unfurling it on branches of trees above us. . . urging birds and bees to behave in those seasonal ways they're legendary for.  

Our container garden -- just out the door, on our rooftop terrace -- has been quivering with life these past few weeks: new birds at the feeder; or bouncing up and down the maple trees where, day by day, more leaves camouflage their activity; dipping heads into the basin of the fountain (although the hummingbirds prefer to hover in front of the fountain spouts and sip daintily -- such a pretty sight when sunlight sets the hummingbird's iridescence to gleam in tandem with the water's sparkle).

And don't get me started on the mason bees. If you've followed me for a few Springs, you'll know I can wax rhapsodic on these little creatures. We began hosting these significant pollinators back in 2018, and we've been gratified to have a new generation here each year since. . . and on April 8th last year, so almost exactly one year ago, I posted a little video on Instagram -- wherein TWO brand-new-to-the-world mason bees emerged from their winter homes and started preparing for this short season's work.

But this post is supposed to be a short one, just for sharing two sketchbook pages recording days when I left our garden. So let me step away from the terrace with its trees and fountain and birds and bees for now (I did sketch it, quickly, yesterday morning, so perhaps a future post). . . 

I've been following a short online course by Laura McKendry on Illustrating Nature; she offers many techniques for loosening our sketches, for freeing ourselves to find other ways to "illustrate nature" other than reproducing what we see -- when, often, the reponsibility to capture realistically what we see intimidates us, freezes our potential, sets up a nasty cycle whereby we are defeated even as we begin. Instead, she encourages us to use unconventional tools (sticks, old toothbrushes, feathers) -- and sets a number of useful warming-up exercises.  

I've heard some of this before, of course, but somehow her presentation is just what I need right now, and after watching her video on Taking It Outside, I packed a little kit and visited the local botanic gardens where I crouched to draw those mayapple leaves, just emerging. . .  (the individual leaves  head straight up out of the soil and then open -- from the top, outwards --  the umbrella they form, a charming trick).


And then a day or two later, I watched her lesson on working from a photograph or video -- a second choice to observing "in real life," but often useful and sometimes necessary. Again, she suggests techniques to release us from any obligation to replicate the photograph -- and these techniques also serve, happily, to obviate concerns (professional artists might have) about plagiarism.  So I set to making a joyous and playful and sometimes very concentrated mess at the table with my laptop in front of me, trying to create a page that would commemorate a recent moment when Paul and I watched a pair of red-tailed hawks circle above us as we walked a favourite trail around a local lake. 

Let's just call the result "mixed-media," shall we? I mixed up a brown to paint the underlying page, trying to come close to the hawk's main colour.  Over that brown, I did some very loose lines with a black brush pen, trying to capture the sense of the hawks in flight. You can barely see those lines because on top of them I collaged some of the heads I sketched (in ink, with a dip pen, and sometimes an old toothbrush, and a splash of watercolour or a dab of pastel) on various other papers -- and a rough (playful!) ink/watercolour/pastel sketch of a hawk in flight.



The process -- for both pages -- was engrossing and satisfying and also surprisingly illuminating.  I really had to look. And look. And look again. 

Plus the bit of research I did to better understand what I was looking at. . . Staring and staring at that beak from different perspectives offered by numerous photos. Looking at where the eyes are set in relation to that beak, the nostrils . . . On another page in my journal I've accompanied continuous line drawings of the bird in flight with six questions that help identify this hawk that I've scribbled between sketches.

All this looking reminds me of a gorgeous children's book my kids and I used to look at, Joanne Oppenheim's Have You Seen Birds?, illustrated by Barbara Reid's brilliantly rich Plasticine relief technique. Not because (obviously!) my illustrations approach hers in quality, but because when I'm sketching (birds or whatever) I have to look and look and look until I SEE. . . 

Wow! Two posts in one week -- I haven't done that for a long while. . . 

Now, if you're wanting to chat, you know I'm listening. Here's a question you might think about for me: 

What ways have you found to move from Looking to Seeing? or from Listening to really hearing? Hmmm, the language is less clear for any parallel distinction about the remaining senses? Touching to Feeling, perhaps, but for both Smelling and Tasting we use the same words for when our sensory organs meet the phenomenal world as we do when our brain registers and engages with what those organs have perceived. . . Sorry, just thinking out loud here. Over-thinking, some of you will chuckle. So I'll leave you with that and welcome any comments you choose to leave.

xo,

f

Monday, April 5, 2021

Buona Pasquetta -- Just Another Manic Pandemic Easter Monday

 I don't know about you, but Easter was weird for me, for the second year in a row (and that we're numbering weird Easters now is also, you know, weird. Unsettling. Turns out that I posted last Easter Monday as well, so two consecutive Easter-Monday-during-pandemic posts). . . Coming out of March, which is the month of my mother's birthday and also the month on whose very last day she died eight years ago -- the year Easter fell on March 31st. . . 

And of course Easter is thick with family memories stretching in overlapping layers back to the late '50s. All the Alleluia hymns; 9:00 a.m. Mass before the Easter Bunny, of course (fasting before Communion, obviously); white shoe polish squeezed from the Kiwi bottle and the black greasy stuff pulled from its tin by a cloth and rubbed into worn leather, Mary Janes and Oxfords buffed to their best shine; new dresses, Easter coats, flower-studded hats all 'round (although some years, some of my younger siblings might just have got a new pair of bright white socks and landed a coveted dress as hand-me-down).  After Mass, a Big English breakfast, my dad's specialty, more welcome than ever after Lent's sacrifices. And then hunting for the chocolate and the jelly beans, of course . . . 

Scrabbling under bushes or behind chairs (depending on the weather) after the glint of a gold wrapper or the promise of a purple oval, I was unwittingly laying down a template  for all my children's Easter Egg Hunts, once, even, for a granddaughter's (the same morning my mother died) . . . t

My youngest siblings were still in elementary school when my parents became grandparents, and except for the years they were travelling in the Spring, I don't think the Easter Bunny ever stopped leaving candies in my mother's magnificent garden ("Ken, don't hide those there. See where I've marked the little seedlings?! I don't want those trampled!")  . . . and my dad especially relished the chaotic magic of those mornings with 10 or 12 of his grandchildren romping and hooting and filling their baskets across the front lawn of an otherwise sedate neighbourhood.  Then he'd make pancakes for everyone, and sometimes the kids would still have appetite enough to eat a few. . . 

Sadly, my four rarely experienced those hunts because we lived too far away.  But they regularly brought their own Littles to the crazy and wonderful Easter brunches my sister's hosted for years, gathering our huge clan in her beautiful heritage home where we once had seven under-eights thrilling to the abundance of sugar and chocolate two generations after my siblings and I were equally thrilled by considerably less. . . 

So. All those memories, as I said, and then yesterday, for the second year in a row we couldn't have anyone in nor could we be in anyone else's home. No Easter brunches for us. 

But. . . we did manage a hike on a forested hillside  (7 kilometres, the equivalent of 26 floors climbed, my iPhone tells me) with an Eight and a Six and their parents and their dog, and that was a tradition I could enjoy repeating. The Six very generously and quite spontaneously (I wasn't hinting, honest!) offered me a Cadbury mini egg (I did not refuse; that would have been insulting, no?). . . and later his sister followed suit, and they also gave us two extravagantly dyed hard-boiled eggs (I didn't know food colouring came in Neon) in custom-designed-just-for-us wrapping.  Perfect fuel for a long hilly hike. Photos here if you need some calming Pacific Northwest forest vibes in your day.

Funny what happens here on this "page," this blank screen. I came here this morning quite sure I couldn't write anything, given a maelstrom of confused emotions I was surfing.  Wanting to keep to my (already reduced) commitment to posting weekly, on Mondays lately, I thought I'd just share a couple of pages from my sketchbook. And instead, these words manifested. 

Since they did, I've decided I'll be back tomorrow or Wednesday to post those sketches. Hope you might stop by again to check those out and meanwhile, leave me a comment about your Easter, perhaps about your family traditions and how the pandemic has changed those, how you've adapted (or not). Or Holi or Passover. . . Ramadan, upcoming, will probably be different from usual as well. As was Chinese New Year a few weeks ago. . . and other cultural feasts and holy days and traditions I'm unfamiliar with. But you can tell me, please. . . 

xo,

f


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