Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Weekend Rant

The Bedroom at Auppegard, France, Girl Reading by Ethel Sands

The Bedroom at Auppegard, France, Girl Reading by Ethel Sands

I am having a bit of a “woe is me” weekend.  The stress of this ridiculously unlucky year has been catching up with me over the last month or two and my naturally cheery self is nowhere to be found.  This is very poor timing since I should be extra industrious this month, studying hard for my upcoming exam.  Except I barely have the mental capacity to write a grocery list, never mind cramming tax rules and investment theories into my overwhelmed little brain, after a full day at work.  This is my third exam of the year but by far the largest.  I keep telling myself I need to buckle down and work hard for just a few more weeks and then I can relax and take a few months off of studying before starting on the next set of courses.  This is very true and very sound advice.  I just need to act on it.

Saturday was not an impressive day in the life of Claire.  It started well enough but quickly went off the rails.  My computer died a quick and entirely unexpected death.  If you were ever hoping for a review of the Sylvia Townsend Warner letters I keep mentioning, I apologize.  My notes are lost forever.  Also, I have now spent 24 hours looking for my Microsoft Office installation CD and it is nowhere to be found.  A small thing – at least I have the internet up and working again – but enough to drive me batty in my current mood.  My favourite sweater bled in the wash.  I forgot to buy key ingredients for dinner but of course didn’t realise until I was halfway through cooking it.  My hairdresser worried that I might have a serious health issue because of a recent change she’s noticed in my hair.  This of course led to deeply distressing internet searches.  For a nice distraction, I thought I’d go see the new James Bond film at my local theatre.  I got there 40 minutes ahead of showtime and it was sold out.

Usually, I am up to this level of chaos.  I am resilient and cheerful.  I am generally considered to be charming and optimistic.  I take things in my stride and move forward.  Yesterday, I just wanted to hit something.  Very hard.  Or take up drinking.  Instead, I had a hot bath, finished reading A.D. Scott’s A Double Death on the Black Isle (not as good as the first book in the series – or was is that just my cross mood colouring my view of it?) and went to bed early.

Today, I tried to calm myself.  I did yard work.  I bought flowers for myself.  I went for a lovely walk in the woods.  I attended a concert of Mozart’s Requiem.  But I still feel frazzled and exhausted.  And tomorrow, another work week starts.

The Mozart concert today was held at a church and before the music started, there was a reading.  It was Ecclesiastes 3 – a passage even heathens like me are familiar with:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

This last year has been a trying season of my life and in the lives of those around me.  I keep telling myself things will get easier after X is done.  But we’ve been through five or six X events now and it’s not getting any easier.  It’s not getting worse, though.  There is that.  I am still hopeful that once I get through this exam at the end of the month, I’ll be able to relax properly for the first time since last November.  Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, I keep reading more novels than I should.  Definitely more historical novels than I should in my current mood (damn you Mr. Trollope and Ms. Heyer for being so irresistible).  There is nothing so alluring to me right now as a heroine who only needs to worry about her family and her romantic life.  How simple that sounds!  How much easier than having to balance that with full-time work and further career ambitions!  If you know of any gentleman of means looking for a sensible, financially-savvy wife to serve as chatelaine of his profitable estate, please send him my way.  Immediately.

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VignoniI am back after a wonderful two weeks in Italy.  I strolled through vineyards, forests, and countless hill-towns in Tuscany, admired palm trees, snow-capped mountains and German tourists on Lake Garda, and found unexpected quiet on Venice’s twisting, charming streets and canals.

To be frank, I am not particularly excited to be home.  I would much rather be sitting somewhere in the Veneto with a glass of prosecco or visiting a spa in Merano or maybe discovering the ancient glories of Rome.  Instead, I am back at home where it is cold and wet and I am expected to work for a living for another thirty or forty years.  Most unsatisfactory.

the-road-to-little-dribbling-115989452My wanderlust is something I live with the whole year round, though my vacations are limited to three weeks a year.  I am already plotting where to go next year.  Italy again?  My beloved Germany, perhaps?  Croatia, finally?  Dare I pluck up the courage for India?  I thought I had it narrowed down but then yesterday I read Bill Bryson’s newest book, The Road to Little Dribbling, and now, of course, I am desperate to go back to the UK.  One of the delights of the UK, as Bryson never tires of pointing out, is how crammed full it is of fascinating people, places and history.  London alone has more cultural sights than many countries but there are thoughtful, original museums and galleries scattered across the rest of the nation with infuriating frequency.  I am ready to go NOW and spend three or four weeks (months?) roaming about, visiting museums and galleries, walking the South Downs and the Yorkshire Dales.

What I shall actually do is stay here, work, study for a demanding upcoming professional exam, and, perhaps, occasionally remember to update this blog.  I do miss regular blogging but have been so busy this year that I’ve barely had time to read, never mind reflect on my reading.  It is something I miss and I hope in the coming months I’ll be able to make blogging part of my regular schedule again.

Though I didn’t read much, and certainly not deeply, I did come across some excellent books this summer.  Girl at War by Sara Nović, about the impact of the Serbo-Croatian war on a young girl, was excellent; Uprooted, a light, undemanding fantasy novel from Naomi Novik, was a fun distraction from my other concerns; and Man Overboard by Monica Dickens was a nice, light romance about an unemployed naval officer that reminded me of how well Dickens writes from the male perspective and had unmistakable similarities to the writing of my dear Nevil Shute.

Sofia Khan is Not ObligedBut the most delightful surprise of this summer was Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik (of which Kate has already written an excellent and far more detailed review).  Sometimes, books appear that so perfectly match my dream book wish list that I can barely believe they are real.  This was one of those books.  Sofia Khan is a young British Muslim woman, working in the publishing industry in London (much like her creator).  Like many young women, she is looking for love but not prepared to compromise too much.  She wants someone who shares her faith, is close to his family (though not too close – living with the in-laws is a step too far for Sofia), and believes in her feminist values.  If he happens to be gorgeous and brings the banter, so much the better.

Through Sofia and her friends, Malik looks with humour and sympathy at the way young, educated, devout, modern Muslim women approach romance.  One friend is in love with married man and, as the novel begins, considering becoming a second wife.  Another is in a relationship with a black man, something her family and community would certainly not approve of.  Sofia isn’t quite sure who she wants but she knows she wants love and marriage and a family of her own.

As someone who has never been able to connect with alcohol- and regretful hook-up-driven Chick Lit novels (or television shows, like Sex and the City), Sofia Khan is Not Obliged was a welcome change.  It offered a cheeky, intelligent, fallible heroine who, although I may not share her faith or culture, I could identify with more easily than most of the other protagonists in the genre.  Once I started reading, I could not put the book down – it’s the only thing I’ve read this year that kept me up past midnight (on a weekday, no less).  I read it thanks to NetGalley and can’t wait for the paperback to come out in January (it is available now as an e-book).

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Merry Christmas


Christmas Day

I love Christmas day. Christmas Eve is our big celebration (family dinner, gifts, etc) but today is devoted to lounging about, eating leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner (fish and potato salad make an excellent breakfast) and sneaking Christmas cookies. What? The cookie plate is empty? No idea how that happened.

After a leisurely start to the morning (cocooned in a blanket, I finally read the Winter 2014 issue of “Slightly Foxed”), there was a family walk to take advantage of the glorious weather.  Now, congratulating ourselves on being so active, we are content to hole up at home for the rest of the day.  There are books to be read, movies to be watched (“Little Women”, I am thinking), and, for dinner, a delicious little duck to be cooked.  And, best of all, there are three more days without work stretching ahead of me after this.  Bliss!

Merry Christmas, everyone.


Christmas Eve


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Home Sweet Home


Lucky thing that I am, I did not have to work on my birthday yesterday.  I managed to have a busy and rather stressful day (good stress, but still stress) nonetheless but one of the least stressful and most delightful parts of it was an afternoon walk along the beach.  It was a perfect reminder of why Vancouver is my favourite city in the world and why I would not want to live anywhere else.  Especially in February.

Vancouver2 Vancouver3 Vancouver4


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P1080059Life is good.  Work has been busy but interesting, I have baked 1000 cookies in the past week (very small cookies, but still that was a lot of work), we had some beautiful (if inconvenient) snow here yesterday, and, most excitingly, my brother was accepted into a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program, which means that not too many years from now I’ll be able to call him Dr. Phillip.  And we’re only a few days away from Christmas (and two precious days off work for me).  Life is very good indeed.

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After a Game of Tennis by Fairlie Harmar

After a Game of Tennis by Fairlie Harmar

This morning I wrote (hopefully) my last big exam of the year.  Since I started work at the beginning of September, I feel like every day has followed the same pattern: get up, work, get home, study, sleep, repeat.  The weekends have been used for even more studying.  I’ve been taking courses I need for my work but it has been a punishing schedule.  Now, finally, I have a bit of break.  A long break from the studying (my next big exam isn’t until February) and a short break from work, thanks to the Remembrance Day long weekend.  I am embracing both and declaring this my weekend of gracious living.

There shall be:

credit: Jo Malone.co.uk

credit: Jo Malone.co.uk

Long baths with my brand new Jo Malone French Lime Blossom bath oil (my treat to myself for finishing two courses in two months)

credit: unknown

credit: unknown

The buying of as many flowers as I can find vessels for

Cafe et Cigarette Paris 1925 credit: Roger Viollet

Cafe et Cigarette Paris 1925 credit: Roger Viollet

A chatty lunch with my favourite aunt

credit: bbc.co.uk

credit: bbc.co.uk

The baking of the Christmas cake (using Nigel Slater’s recipe from The Kitchen Diaries)


And, of course, the reading of many, many things: books, magazines, newspapers…I plan to drown myself in print for the next two days

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Happy Day


It is a happy day, friends.  To be honest, I am happy most days but today I am especially so.  I was offered and have accepted the job I was interviewing for last week.  It was the first and only job I have applied to since leaving my old company earlier this year (having taken a wonderfully long break in between those two events) and I am thrilled to have got it.  It is the dream the job and I’m going to get to work for a company and a boss that I really admire.  I start at the beginning of September and am very excited!

So, to celebrate my happiness, here’s a list of a few other things that are making me happy right now:

The impending arrival (November is coming up fast!) of Christmas at High Rising by Angela Thirkell, a collection of stories Thirkell wrote during the 1930s and 1940s, none of which I have ever read

Christmas at High Rising

The return of The Great British Bake Off and with it the return of Simon’s hilarious GBBO recaps

Spending time with my favourite canine companion (sadly borrowed, not owned)

Reading the fabulous River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
River of Stars

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Spring is here!


I have been a negligent, half-hearted blogger lately but you know what?  I don’t care.  Flowers are coming up, days are getting longer, and the weather is finally perfect.  February, I love you.

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2013, I like what I have seen of you so far.  Admittedly, we’re only half a day into the new year here but it is off to a glorious start.  My mother and I both turn into slightly crazy and very superstitious old Czech women on New Year’s Day, strictly policing the family to ensure that the traditions that will ensure an excellent year are carried out: a long walk (for health), no meat until dinner, and then a dinner that includes ham (for luck) and lentils (for money).  As far as traditions go, you could do far worse.  We had a lovely family walk on the beach, the lentils are soaking, and the ham will soon be put in the oven.  A successful 2013 is ensured.

I don’t generally make resolutions for the delightful reason that I am perfectly happy with my life.  2013 is going to see a few changes – I’ll be leaving the company where I’ve worked for the last four and a half years and searching for a job in my chosen field – but they should all be for the better.  I’ll be studying and travelling through the spring and early summer and already I have had great fun planning the Lake District portion of this summer’s trip to Europe.  The rest of the itinerary is up in the air but that part at least is booked.   And I will be coming south after that (looks like it will be the second week of July) to visit with any and all available blogging friends in Southern England.  That, I am sure, will be a highlight of this year.

Books for 2013 - rereads

While I haven’t set any particular reading goals for 2013, there are a number of books calling out to be reread.  In January, I’d like to read Pride and Prejudice in honour of its 200th anniversary, as well as join Simon’s Cheerful Weather for the Wedding readalong.  After that, I’d like at some point to reacquaint myself with the Provincial Lady, reread the early books and catch up on the more recent ones in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, and rekindle my love of the Mortmain family from I Capture the Castle.

Books for 2013

I would also like to work through some of the books on my shelves I haven’t yet read.  I have a huge number of Persephone books waiting and I am hoping to start with The New HouseThe Talisman Ring and The Quiet Gentleman are two of only a small handful of Heyer books that I have never read before and that obviously needs to be remedied quickly.  I picked up a few books from Greyladies towards the end of 2012 so will have to try those, starting with The Day of Small Things and A Young Man’s Fancy.  The Mitford sisters’ letters have been sitting on my bookshelf partially read since Christmas 2009, which is a travesty.  And though I just received it this Christmas, I am itching to delve into Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor (and will then obviously have to read/reread all his travel writing as well as his letters to Debo).

There are a few dozen other books – at least! – that I’m hoping to get to this year and library holds have accordingly been placed.  I am planning to spend more time in Trollope’s Barsetshire than Thirkell’s, am looking forward to a few history books on continental Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War, cannot wait to read about What Matters in Jane Austen?, and am looking forward to relaxing with new books from both Katie Fforde and Susanna Kearsley.

Yes, 2013, I think I am going to like you.

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When One Door Closes

Changed Priorities Ahead

As I mentioned in this morning’s Library Lust post, this has been a strange week.  Thank you everyone for your supportive comments; your kind words mean a lot.  I have been a little dazed for the past few days – so much so that I haven’t even been able to concentrate on reading, never mind reviewing – but I think my brain is starting to function again.

Work has been stressful for a while now but, ever since a plan to eliminate about a quarter of the workforce over the next couple of years (almost 5,000 people) was revealed, the anxiety levels have gone through the roof.  This week I learned that my job (as well as the jobs of everyone I work with) is being eliminated and that by the end of February I will most likely be terminated.  They are trying to find other jobs for us in the rest of the organization but since I telecommute and live far from head office there probably won’t be anything for me.

It is exactly what I had expected and been planning for but for some reason it was still a bit of a shock.  I was planning to leave the company in 2013 anyways, being ready for a new challenge after having spent two years in my most recent role, and had started plotting my next moves.  I’ve already enrolled in the courses I need to take for the designation I’m hoping to pursue and was beginning to set up informational interviews with professionals in that field.  For me, the timing of all this could not have been better.  So why was I upset?

I think the main reason is because I know how devastated many of my work mates are.  I am so thankful to no longer be at head office, knowing how terrible the situation there must be after these announcements, but I still have many friends there who are affected by these changes.  People with families and mortgages who, unlike me, don’t have several years’ worth of salary saved up and plans already formed for what to do next.  Working with them is going to be difficult over the next few months.  I am excited (though, of course, a little nervous) about moving on; I don’t expect that to be the general feeling.

But my shock also just comes down to the fact that for the first time in my life I am not the one in charge of the decision making.  I am excited about what I am planning to do next but there is a big difference between being in control of a change and being at the mercy of others.  Before, I had been planning while thinking things would happen according to a timeline I would have at least a little say in.  Now, the timeline has been dictated by others.  It is one that is very close to what I would have chosen but still, I love to be in control and, for once, I am not.  It is a good experience for me, I know that, but it has taken me a couple of days to adjust.  I am not angry or bitter, not depressed or discouraged.  I am just a bit shaken.

The most exciting thing about this termination is that it means I have the luxury of taking some time off.  I started working immediately after graduating university (having been hired while I was studying) and have worked steadily at the same company since then so I am rather excited at the idea of being able to take a trip without worrying about how many of my vacation days it will use up.  Barring any major developments, I’ll be driving down to Palm Desert in early March, spending a few weeks there, heading back to Vancouver for April and some of May (to study and meet with some of my professional contacts), and then setting off in late May or early June for a month or more in Europe.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to meet up with some other book bloggers as I wander about (and yes, I’ll be visiting England this year)!

It’ll be an interesting few months at work between now and the end of February but in many ways it is so much nicer to know the worst rather than to be uncertain and constantly worrying about what many come next.  I love the people I work with and look forward to spending a few more months with them but I am even more excited about what I’ll be doing after we go our separate ways.

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