Friday, 30 January 2015

A midwinter education

Every month, the lovely Emily at Chatting at the Sky invites her readers and fellow writers to share what they've been learning lately, be it frivolous or profound. December's round-up was a recap of the whole year prior. However, looking back on 2014 through my post-flu mid-teething lens didn't seem fair, so I sat that one out. Instead, I've included a couple December tidbits along with Janaury's.

Here's what I've been learning:

My S.A.D. lamp isn't really a S.A.D. lamp, but it still helps. Once upon a time, my mother-in-law lent my husband a full-spectrum light to help with his S.A.D.- type symptoms. Seeing as I find heavy overcasts seriously draining, I thought I'd dig it up and give it a try. I discovered something called an Ott Lite tucked up on a shelf, and assumed I'd found what I was looking for. I used it on and off for weeks while reading or sitting at the computer on cloudy days. I felt energized in the mornings and had none of the too-buzzed-to-sleep side-effects my husband experienced if I sat under it in the afternoon. Last week my mother-in-law informed me that it wasn't actually her S.A.D. lamp, but a really good reading lamp she'd passed on on another occasion. It isn't full-spectrum, but it is meant to mimic daylight and reduce eye-strain. Placebo effect, anyone? Or maybe I've just been reading in poor light for too long. I think I'll keep using it anyways.

A kiwifruit is actually a berry. My son asked me if kiwis grew on trees - I had no idea, so I pulled out my pocket encyclopedia (i.e. smartphone browser) and looked it up. Turns out they grow on vines - and are now the biggest berry I've ever seen.

I don't self-identify as fat, but seeing this photo-shoot had me identifying with dancers. It's not often you see still-shots of fleshly bodies in motion. I looked at all these dancers whose flesh folds when they bend and flops when they spin and thought "hey - my skin does that too!" Bravo!

Taking a two-year hiatus from the dentist is a bad plan. Unless you throw a pregnancy in the mix - then it's an abysmal one. I'd heard that pregnancy hormones could wreak havoc on a momma's teeth, but this was the first time I saw such negative results. My return to the dentist chair was painfully illuminating. February will be a month of fillings for me, followed by yet more scaling. Ouch.

Adding a little history increases my interest in hair and makeup exponentially. Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas clued me into this awesome montage of beauty trends, tracking how they've changed from 1910. I've since stumbled on the creator's second video, and a side-by-side comparison. They each run a minute or less - which is a good feature in a video I end up watching several times in a row every couple days. So fun!

Friday, 23 January 2015

"All beginnings are hard"

After well over a year of intermittent link-ups with the Five Minute Friday crew, I've given myself permission to take a sneak at the word of the week hours before I sit down and set my timer. Some days, it still feels like cheating. Other days, it's just what my mind and heart need to sift down to what I really need to be writing about. Today was one of the latter variety - and of the subcategory where I write well over the five minute limit, just to get it all out.

This week's prompt is "share".

I spent yesterday morning helping my oldest friend pack up her kitchen. Her and her family leave next Monday to move across the mountains. It was sweet to have just a couple more hours to share together, to pack up plates and cups and glassware almost as familiar as my own. Next time I see them, they'll be up in unfamiliar cupboards. We will share meals and coffee and drinks on them again, but exact time and location are still TBA.

We've been friends for thirty years, and only lived apart for two of them. Since that last reunion, we've seen each other through the end of our undergrad degrees and our first and second apartments. We've stood up at each other's weddings, held each other's babies, cried over each other's miscarriages. We've watched our husbands become closer friends, and our kids become like siblings. There have been coffees and playdates, ordinations and joint wedding anniversaries, extended phone calls and family dinners. Times we saw scads of each other, others where weeks slipped by on the assumption that we'd talk again next Sunday, or, if not, the Sunday after. 

It is said the Lord works in mysterious ways. He calls one friend and her small family on to new and wonderful works, while calling the other and her small crew to stay still, to grow here for now, and pray. It is good, and strange, and exciting, but also challenging and more than a little sad. Our kids won't grow up living in each other's houses the way we both fondly remember. They'll be learning the art of long distance friendship; trading afternoon playdates and see-you-Sundays for skype calls and letters and the promise of long tracks of play at the end of the next road trip. It's closer to the relationship I had with cousins, and that was special too. 

I don't see this as an ending, but another beginning. And all beginnings are hard, but that doesn't mean they can't be beautiful.

Safe journeys, my friend.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Quick Lit: December & January

For the first time since embarking on my brain-saving reading endeavour, I missed a link-up with Modern Mrs. Darcy. I did plenty of reading, but not enough checking of the calendar to catch December 15 before it flew by. I suspect Christmas prep was to blame. Now I'm into January catch-up mode, so I've got two months worth of book reviews to share.

December's link-up was also the inaugural month of Twitterature's new name: Quick Lit. It turns out that too few of the contributors (including the host) were sticking to tweet-length reviews and everybody liked it better that way. The new name reflects that: still short, but not that short. As a writer who has trouble keeping posts under 140 words, let alone 140 characters, the change suits me fine.

Here's what I've been reading:

Farewell to the East End, by Jennifer Worth
Worth's last instalment of her memoirs returned to the short story format from her first volume, with a mixture of personal details of the various nuns and midwives, examples of bureaucratic insanity in the face of the East End's massive post-war rehousing project, and a collection of birth stories that more than prove the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. I enjoyed it just as much as the other two. Next up will be the TV version, just as soon as I'm done with Downton.

Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
I covered my thoughts of this typical self-help book back in November. I won't repeat my rant. Loved the idea, hated the execution. If you're interested in learning how to pare down to the essentials, I suggest you skim.

Wanting Sheila Dead, by Jane Haddam
Once again, Haddam lets a reader have a ridiculous amount of fun with murder, this time on the set of reality TV show - with a host that makes Simon Cowell look like an old softy - and a bonus mystery in the detective's backyard. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the ever-growing sense that I really need to get to the bottom of Demarkian's love story. If you happen to know in which of Haddam's first ten novels Gregor met Bennis, please drop me a line. Her website is little help.

Kaleidoscope, by Gail Bowen
Bowen's Joanne Kilbourn is a very different sort of protagonist from your average crime thriller. Sometimes she's sleuthing, other times she's just picking up the pieces. This novel was of the latter category (I can't say much more without spoiling it). As usual, Bowen packed her page-turner with a thought-provoking social commentary. As fun as it is to get caught up in the gritty underbellies of New York or Los Angeles, it's easy to forget they exist closer to home. By setting her crimes in Regina, Saskatchewan, Bowen doesn't let a Canadian reader off that easy.

Anne of Windy Poplars, by L. M. Montgomery
I had originally meant to re-read the Anne books in order of publication this time around, but my daughter had other ideas. The spine says book four, therefore it comes after book three. Never mind the 1936 copyright. I was able to apply my acquired trivia all the same: knowing Montgomery wrote about Anne's three-year engagement nearly twenty years after she wrote Anne's House of Dreams (1917) explains a lot about the change in tone. Anne is still a young Anne, but the adventures she witnesses don't all tie up quite so neatly, and knowing these characters can't be revisited in the next volume gives the ending a bittersweet edge. I remember the twinge from past read-throughs, but couldn't put my finger on why a book full of relatively happy endings left me feeling sad. I think I know now.

Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, by Boris Akunin
A friend lent me this book thinking my husband and I might like it. Boy was she right! Sister Pelagia is an observant, though clumsy, young nun with a weakness for riddles who lives in the backwater of nineteenth century Russia. Her first case reads like Agatha Christy crossed with Fyodor Dostoevsky with enough sharp jabs at the prevailing culture to counter My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I still found it tough to navigate through all the Russian diminutives and patronymics, but Akunin added enough memorable quirks to his lesser-used characters to help me figure out who was who even if I'd forgotten which four names went with each person. It's a great read for any mystery fan with a special dose of cackle for anyone familiar with Russian Orthodoxy. I'm so glad her next few adventures have also been translated into English.

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty
This novel has been on my to-read list for months; I finally made it to the top of my library's holds list right before Christmas. It was a lovely escapist holiday read: chick-lit ease with lots of musing space for what-might-have-beens and what-if-it-had-been-mes. Moriarty weaves several layers of loss through Alice's week of amnesia from dealing with death to infertility to relationships withered by busyness. It's the first of her books I've read, but it won't be the last.

Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures, by Amber Dusick
After Christmas came the flu that left me huddled on my parents' couch rather than catching up with family and friends. This humorous collection of parenting foibles was an excellent companion. I've enjoyed Dusick's blog for years, so it was neat to see her take her ideas to print form. And I'll never think of diapers the same way again. So, so funny.

Whew. All caught up. We'll see how long it takes to say the same about the housework ;)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Age old wonder meets brave new world

Cold and humidity streaked across the prairies in late December, leaving a wonderland of hoarfrost in its wake. I drove down the Yellowhead enchanted - well, my husband drove. I shifted between staring out the window and trying to capture all that magic with my phone. I waffled between snapping as many shots as I could manage and just soaking it all in without a worry of documenting for the future. 

It's becoming a common battle when the highway meets my smart phone. There's more beauty stretching out to the horizon than I could possibly glean. I come back from our five-hour journey between hometowns of then and now with an overwhelming collection of slightly varied skyscapes, hills, and wetlands, mostly marred by the review mirror poking in the corner of the frame. I'm only learning how to edit, how cull my hoard and press delete.

Isn't it strange that it can feel selfish not to try to share everything we see? The network in my pocket lets me spread these drive-by delights, but it puts a pressure on the beholder that didn't exist before. Is it possible to be truly present without keeping the moment private? How can I really see when I'm busy shouting "look what I saw"?

I want to devour this feast of the eye but also save it for later. Someday I'll have to accept that I can't have my frosting and eat it too. In meantime, though, I've saved you a nibble.

I hope your holidays all held such wonders of their own.