Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Merry Christmas

A Quebec Village Street, Winter by Clarence Gagnon

We are doing our usual quiet celebration on Christmas Eve full of Czech traditions, and then I plan to spend Christmas day bouncing between Trollope’s Christmas short stories and outdoor activities (the snow is melting!  The best Christmas present of all!).  I can’t think of a nicer way to spend the day.

However you’re celebrating, wherever you’re celebrating, (if you’re celebrating,) Merry Christmas!

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The Wedding Morning by John Henry Frederick Bacon

I like to think I’ve been holding it together pretty well through Covid times.  But this weekend…this weekend has been very tough.

On Saturday, my best friend since the age of five got married.  Without me – or any of her other bridesmaids, or, most importantly, her parents.  She lives in the US now and with no non-essential travel between the two countries (for very good reason – the US spike in cases is terrifying) it wasn’t possible for any of us to be there.

I’d spent weeks thinking about how hard it must be for her not to have her people at the wedding (the groom’s family and friends live nearby so were able to make up the numbers for their 12 person outdoor wedding).  My fellow bridesmaids and I hosted a Zoom bachelorette and got to check in with the bride just before she walked down the aisle, offering last minute virtual advice and support.  And that was lovely.  But it wasn’t the same.

What I hadn’t thought about before yesterday was what it meant to me not to be at her wedding.  I’m so happy for her but I found myself unexpectedly in tears to have missed this event.

I’m so upset that I don’t get to have memories of her wedding day.  I don’t get to know what she looked like coming down the aisle, or exchanging vows.  I don’t get to know if the groom cried or if there were any funny moments.  I don’t get to be part of her memories of that day, which, after having gone through so many milestones together over the course of almost thirty years, is incredibly hard.

We’ll have a party next year or whenever it is safe to gather people from around the world together again but, a year or more after the original wedding, it will be a very different sort of day.  And it will be wonderful and we’ll be able to embrace and dance and do all the things no one could do right now.  But it won’t be quite the same.

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Notes from an Unusual Week

My usual blogging corner in the spare bedroom has become my office and, being someone who likes to have a clear distinction between work and home, I’ve spent most of the weekend avoiding it.  But I’m so enjoying hearing updates from other people’s unusual lives right now that I’ve seated myself down to share a little about how I’m doing.

A week ago Friday, my parents (whom I live with) made the decision to return home from their vacation home in southern California.  With everyone returning to Canada from abroad being required to self-isolate, that gave me two days to stock up and transition to remote working before they got back and we were all confined together.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more hectic weekend as I ran errands everywhere and, without a car, did most of them on foot to spend as little time on the bus as possible.  The stores were busy but orderly in my affluent and aged neighbourhood so it wasn’t an unpleasant experience but it was a tiring one.  But at the end of it I was ready and happy for my parents’ return.  It feels much safer to have them home in Canada – and far less lonely for me as opposed to an empty house.

Our self-isolation rules here in BC aren’t too challenging.  For two weeks, we can’t go to stores (hence my big shop last weekend) but we’re still allowed to go for walks, as long as we stay 2 metres away from anyone else.  This is easy in our leafy neighbourhood, especially as traffic has all but disappeared so it’s easy to walk in the street if there are people approaching on the sidewalk.  We also live a few blocks away from a huge regional park (over 2,000 acres) with endless walking trails.  The trails have been busy but it’s easy to stay away from others on the wide paths.  Social distancing has been mandated for everyone and most people seem to be observing it.

Adjusting to working from home has been remarkably easy.  At a past job I spent 2.5 years working from home so it feels very familiar to be back in my spare room/office each day.  I’m not client facing anymore so as the markets crash I’ve been insulated from some of the chaos my colleagues are having to handle on top of everything else.  I have however turned into ersatz tech support (as our real tech team are overwhelmed with people experiencing computer troubles) so am now an expert on talking people through how to set up video conferencing systems on their computers.

I am a huge believer in the calming effects of routines (also I know no other way to live) so, no surprise, I’ve settled into my new ones already.  My morning alarm has been pushed back half an hour (to 6am), after which I get up, talk a 30-minute walk outside, and then great ready and make breakfast.  Work starts as usual at 7:30 and I break around lunchtime for another walk (longer and brisker).  I wrap up work around 4 and then take another stroll, right now enjoying all of the cherry trees that are in blossom.  The weather this week was spectacular – sunshine and cherry trees do a lot to calm the spirit.  Then it’s back home to make dinner, chat with my parents, and watch or read until bedtime.  Aside from eliminating the commute (and all my colleagues), it’s honestly not too different from my usual routine and that has been deeply comforting.

My reading has gone entirely haywire but that’s a topic for another post.

How are you doing?

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Ten Years

Ten years ago today, I started this blog.  It seems extraordinary that both so much and so little time has passed since then.

In January 2010, I was twenty-three years old and feeling very lonely in Calgary, the frozen wasteland I’d moved to right after university.  I enjoyed my job but the city felt entirely foreign to me, full of young people who knew their way to every bar but not to a single library, and I, raised to expect flowers and green grass in January, had no idea what to do in a place where I was literally snowed on every month of the year.

I’d been ill the autumn before with appendicitis and while recovering had stumbled across the world of book blogs.  I’d been silently lurking since then, amazed to find people who read books I loved, the kind of people I’d never found at university or in this strange city of cowboys and fast-talking oilmen.  Chief among these was Simon at Stuck in a Book.  Simon had been blogging for several years by then about books I either already loved or instantly wanted to read.  I loved seeing the conversations that emerged in the comments on his posts and wanted to be part of that.  Because not only was there Simon but there were Rachel and Darlene and Eva and Jane and Thomas and Harriet – in short, there was no end to all the people out there reading fascinating books.

And that is why I started a blog.  Because I wanted to be part of a conversation that I found (and mostly still find) impossible to have in person.  I had no real intention of writing many reviews myself, I just wanted to be somewhere on the edges.  (And, of course, my first comment was on one of Simon’s posts.)

I certainly had no idea that ten years later I would still be here.  But though my level of activity has changed over the years, the blog and this community has become an important part of my life.  I couldn’t imagine not being able to turn to all of you when I’m excited about something or when I’ve just thrown a book against a wall and need to rant about it.

When I started the blog, I was struggling and frustrated.  I was feeling isolated and like I would never fit in with the people around me (this was true. It was entirely the wrong city – culturally and climatically – for me).  As soon as I started writing, I was overwhelmed by a community that made me feel welcomed, who valued reading and understood the joy of old novels and obscure titles.  At a time when I was feeling timid (a first for me) and a bit lost, your support helped restore my confidence.  Feeling intelligent and capable, I then realised it was alright to admit that my Calgary experiment had failed; within a year of starting the blog I moved back to Vancouver for an altogether healthier and happier life.

So, after ten years, 1,609 books, 1,732 blog posts (including 429 photos of libraries), 12,539 comments, and a rather excessive 28 reviews of works by A.A. Milne (unequivocally a sign of Simon’s influence on my reading choices), THANK YOU.  It’s been wonderful and I’m sure the next ten years will be too.

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Merry Christmas

Wishing you all a happy and wonderful Christmas, however and wherever you are celebrating.

For me, Christmas is all about family and traditions and in our family those traditions are invariably Czech.  To bring a little bit of Czech Christmas into your lives, I wanted to share these Josef Lada paintings.  Lada was a Czech artist who is best known as the illustrator of the The Good Soldier Švejk but it is his scenes of rural life that I love best.  We had a book of them that I would pour over for hours as a child and I love them still.

Merry Christmas!

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Fifty Years Ago Today…

Happy Czechs in 1963

Yesterday was an important anniversary but today is an even more important one for me personally.  Fifty years ago today, my mother began her journey to Canada.

It began with a small journey, but my grandmother was distracted and terrified.  Her country, which had been so wonderful in her youth, had been occupied for the second time in her life.  Instead of Germans, Russians had now rolled into the streets of Prague.  Everything she had hoped and planned for her life had come to nothing.  But she had two daughters and she wanted better for them – and for herself.

She was a forty-seven-year old widow who had spent a few months taking English lessons, trying to recall a language she’d learned thirty years before and never had need to use.  She and her twenty-year old daughter were breaking the law – not just by leaving but by “kidnapping” a minor (my mother).  She had the visas for Canada, and a letter for the Czechoslovak border guards about going there to attend her brother’s wedding, and a lot of nerve.  With one suitcase a piece (after all, who would flee the country with so few belongings?), they set out.

They were lucky.  The border guards were – even months after the Soviet occupation began – miraculously still Czech and no one asked too many questions.  They made it through to Austria.

Which is when my mother, who had been stewing silently, reminded my grandmother of the one thing she had forgotten that day.

Her youngest daughter’s 14th birthday.

Eventually, she was forgiven.  My mother acknowledged that her birthday probably wasn’t the highest priority of the day – but, mind you, I think this took a while.  Possibly years.  Young teenage girls aren’t known for their emotional generosity, particularly ones who are already distraught about leaving their beloved homeland.

My grandmother felt guilty all her life for that slip, but she shouldn’t have.  She gave my mother a wonderful present that day: a future where she was able to live freely, conquer first school and then the business world based on her own (considerable) merit, travel widely, and dream of a big, bright future.  For all three women, it was a journey with a very happy ending.

But it’s been a good reminder to us all never to forget my mother’s birthday.

Happy Canadians in 1981

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After months of anticipation, a very great event occurred last Sunday: I became an aunt.  Arguably, that was the least of the changes: my brother and sister-in-law became parents, two sets of existing parents became grandparents, and a small and rather wonderful girl came into being.

But as I am unable to comment on any of their mindsets with confidence, let us focus on me.

I am rather adrift as to what it means to be an aunt.  Literature provides few useful guides.  If I wanted to be a terrifyingly despotic aunt, or a meek spinster aunt, or an emotionally withholding aunt, I am overwhelmed with bookish inspiration.  Children’s literature runneth over with aunts you would never want to expose your children to.  But what about the kindly aunts?

Eva Ibbotson offers a few: the aunts in Magic Flutes are wonderful, as are the equally supportive aunts in The Dragonfly Pool, but they are a bit timid.  Perhaps more suitable inspiration lies with the suffragette aunts in A Song for Summer, who love their niece even if they can’t understand why she would throw away an education to work at an eccentric boarding school.  That sounds much more like me.

But Ibbotson also offers up some joyfully awful aunts in A Company of Swans and in some of her children’s books.  She was, she admitted, a fan of using aunts in her books and deployed them in all their various facets.

And, of course, P.G. Wodehouse created aunts so terrifying I run from them as quickly as their lily-livered nieces and nephews ever did.  There are some nice ones mixed in but who remembers them?

Jane Austen certainly had a flurry of memorable aunts floating around in her books, from the very, very bad (Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park or Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice) to the very good (Mrs Gardiner, an excellent source of motherly counsel for Elizabeth Bennet) to the undefinable (Miss Bates – doubtlessly a good woman but who doesn’t pity Jane Fairfax for having to deal with her tiresome fussings and rather vocal timidity?).

But that does put me in mind of Fay Weldon’s excellent Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen.  If I could be the kind of aunt who dispenses sensible, non-binding advice while discoursing on Jane Austen I think I should be very happy indeed.  We may need to wait a few years for that though.  Until then, I will be content with cooing over her and buying obscene numbers of children’s books and looking forward to the day we can read them together.

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via here

While browsing at my favourite local bookshop this afternoon, a woman came in and started talking with the salesperson.  She was looking for a book for her twenty-seven year old son.  Her parameters were vague but historical fiction was preferred.  Something set in Asia would be nice.  And if it involved armies and war, even better.

It was at this point I had to step in.

It’s not that I don’t trust trained sales people to do their jobs.  I do, especially at this particular store where the selection seems very carefully curated to consist 90% of books that appeal to me personally.  I just happened to be uniquely qualified to make this particular sale.

After all, there was a copy of Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay directly in front of me.  It not only matched her particulars, it also happens to be one of my favourite books (confirmed when I reread it last year).

I plucked it from the shelf, passed it to the woman, and told her it was everything she was looking for.  The saleswoman had never heard of Kay (though thankfully she stocks his books) and certainly did not have my trump card – the last person I recommended it to was also a twenty-seven year old male and he loved it.

I am delighted to say I made the sale.  It is in fact the second time this year I have been able to hand-sell that particular book.  Book sellers of Vancouver, beware!  I am roaming the streets, ready to pounce on your customers and make passionate recommendations.


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Listening In

woman-listening-to-a-radioI seem to have come through my reading drought and am now happily reaching the end of Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie.  However, when I was feeling so unsettled with every single other book I tried to read, sometimes I just gave up, closed my eyes, and let someone else read me a story instead.  And it was wonderful.

While I have a few favourite podcasts (CBC’s Vinyl Cafe, BBC’s Home Front, and Rachel and Simon’s Tea or Books), I generally stick to audiobooks.  I listen to audiobooks regularly and find them a wonderful companion when I’m out walking, when podcasts can go by far too quickly.

Lately though I’ve been exploring the many, many programs available through the BBC Radio website and I’ve had many happy hours of listening as a result.  What to?  Well, here’s a brief list of some of the intriguing programs currently available (some of which I’ve listened to but most of which are still on my “to listen” list):

There is still plenty to listen to, as you can see!

I’m always looking for recommendations so please let me know what some of your favourite radio programmes and podcasts are.


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Happy Boxing Day

P1100625 (600x800)Happy Boxing Day everyone!  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are enjoying a suitably lazy aftermath.  We do our celebrating on Christmas Eve, which was lovely, and had a very low key Christmas Day.  We ate Christmas cookies for breakfast, went on a beautiful long walk, and then made Indian food for dinner.  I finally finished reading Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans (nowhere near as good as her recent novel, Crooked Heart) and, with no work until Tuesday, am looking forward to lots more reading between now and then.  And maybe, just maybe, even finding the time to write a book review or two.

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