Gobble it down!

You know how there are some foods that once you start eating you can’t stop until the bag is gone or the plate licked clean? My weakness is popcorn…especially those jumbo kettle corn bags from the farmer’s market…seriously, I will eat the entire bag in one sitting and then deal with an upset stomach the rest of the day.

I have also had a similar experience of “can’t stop until it’s finished” with books. Over the past few weeks, my baby was sick twice, I was sick twice, and we went on our first family vacation up to the lake. What that equals is a busy month with no blog posts but plenty of books read. These are the books I just couldn’t put down once I started, although not all of them left me satisfied when I finished.

IMG_2523[5760]

“The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver

This is a story of a Baptist family from Southern U.S.A who become missionaries in the Congo in the 1950s. A stern father, an abused mother, and 4 daughters brimming with their own personality; an unforgiving jungle environment, a brewing civil war, and a complete lack of understanding by the Price family of their Congolese neighbours….the mission is obviously doomed from the start yet I was still caught off guard by all the twists in the story. Plus, Kingsolver’s use of first person narrative for a different Price woman each chapter is captivatingly effective. No wonder this was a book I couldn’t put down!

5/5 bacon strips

“Fifteen Dogs” by Andre Alexis

In modern day Toronto, two Greek gods give a pack of dogs human intelligence to settle a bet as to whether human intelligence causes more misery or contentment. And so begins one of the most interesting book concepts I have ever encountered. I couldn’t put this book down as Alexis drew me into the minds of these canine characters. I was anxious to find out how this strange story played out, and mulled over the connection of contentment and human intelligence long after I’d read the last page. A strange, interesting read.

4.5/5 bacon strips

 

“Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld

I’m a sucker for anything related to Jane Austen. I read this book within a couple of days because it was an easy read and I was very interested to see how Sittenfeld would work in all of the elements of the Pride and Prejudice story. “Eligible” is a modern take on the Pride and Prejudice story. I enjoyed some of the modern spins on plot points such as the aging of the Bennett girls (Jane is approaching 40), the ignorance of Mr. & Mrs Bennett regarding their finances, and how Darcy and Liz first reveal their attraction to each other (not giving away more details since I don’t want to spoil it for you). I disliked the use of the reality show “Eligible” and Jane’s reproductive issues, as I found it cheapened the love story between Chip and Jane. I also think that is challenging to fit this story into contemporary time as the plot is built around 19th century society where it was normal that people married while knowing relatively little about each other. Today, it is often viewed in North American society as impractical and desperate to marry someone after only a few dates. Although I gobbled this story up, I wouldn’t dig into it again. (Check out “Longbourn” by Jo Baker for an amazing retelling of Pride and Prejudice.)

3.5/5 bacon strips

“China Rich Girlfriend” by Kevin Kwan

I was lucky enough to attend a discussion between Kevin Kwan and Elaine Liu, which was a pleasure to listen to and made me even more excited to read this sequel to “Crazy Rich Asians”. This book reminds me of the ease I feel in reading an Emily Giffin book: characters reveal their innermost thoughts simply, fashion and food descriptions abound, and reality show drama ensues. I quickly completed the book but didn’t feel the same satisfaction as I did with Kwan’s first book. The poison twist at the end seemed a little out of place with the novel’s high society drama, and more fitting for a crime novel or femme fatale plot. Still worth picking up if you want to revisit the characters of Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young, and get another peek into the whirlwind luxury life of the wealthy Asian elite.

4/5 bacon strips

Is there a book you read recently that you just couldn’t put down?

Trix and Chick Lit

Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids.

Silly English Major, Chick Lit is for not for serious readers.

Or at least that what I thought until my third year of university when I took a course called The Woman Writer. We read a large variety of literature written by women including a harlequin book, a blog, a memoir, and bestseller fiction. The large lesson I took away from this course is the value that all writing has and the genre it is put in should not dictate your judgement on that writing.

Chick Lit gets this reputation as silly books for women. It is a label often put on light-toned books centred around romance with a female protagonist. I’m not going to get into an opinion on why chick lit gets that reputation and what it says about society. But I am going to say that I enjoy Jane Austen, Alexandre Dumas, Margaret Atwood, Ann-Marie MacDonald (insert other “serious” authors here both classic and contemporary)…AND I enjoy Chick Lit. Jojo Moyes, Philippa Gregory, and Emily Giffin.

After finishing “Sweetland” by Michael Crummey, I needed something I little more light-hearted to delve into, so I pulled out my Emily Giffin books and quickly read through each book. They were like a glass of deliciously sweet, refreshingly chilled pink wine.

IMG_2296 [63003]

I used to feel guilty about reading books that do not belong in “serious” literature. Then I finished my English major degree and thought, “Who cares? People have been telling me what to read for the past 4 years, I am going to read what I want to.” So I started trying books from different genres and selecting more books by authors I enjoyed instead of those that one the Man Booker prize or were declared the “Dickens of our time”. (On a sidenote, I’ve also stopped trying to develop a more sophisticated wine palate and admitted that I like sweet rose wines, so that’s what I’m going to buy!)

Giffin’s books “Something Borrowed”, “Something Blue”, and “Baby Proof” deal with some pretty serious topics like adultery, divorce, and pregnancy. But the tone that Giffin uses is more like one friend gossiping to another about their mutual friend’s story. There are lots of personal details and fashion updates, and the focus stays on the relationship to self and others. I love that in all three of these books the protagonist is a strong, independent woman who stands true to who she is while also evaluating what she really wants, and by the end, pursuing what she really wants.

It’s not just the personal, casual tone that makes Giffin’s book fall into a category like Chick Lit but also the fantasy that plays out in a real-life setting. All three books describe a scenario of falling in love that is unlikely to happen in reality (most love stories I know are a little bit more down-to-earth: friends meeting each other other, falling in regular love, and then living a normal life together). In Giffin’s books it is: a romantic trip to Lake Como, Italy in a life already filled with spontaneous high-end travel; finding a rich, handsome boyfriend while unemployed and pregnant with twins in a foreign country; settling into a comfortable life of love with your best friend’s fiance with little guilt repercussions. Not really that realistic.

But who cares?! Part of the reason we read books is for entertainment. I do think we should read books that broaden our perspective, but I also think that we should read books just because we enjoy reading that particular book! I enjoyed reading these books by Giffin. I give them all 4/5 bacon strips.

So Mr. Rabbit grab your bowl of Trix and chow down happily with the kids. And Dear Reader, whether you like graphic novels, harlequin, young adult fiction, vampire series, children’s fantasy, Chick Lit, or any other genre, celebrate your consumption! And let’s stop judging others for the books on their shelves, and just be glad that we are all readers.

Disappointing 2nd helpings

I am sitting in a Starbucks since I needed a break from the house. I’ve been at home far too much over the past week taking care of my sick baby. And what better way to tap into my non-mom entity than to write a blog post. Because although the posts have been few, my book reading has amped up in recent weeks so I have books to review and literary things to discuss! Books are a beautiful thing; their ability to make me laugh, to take me into another world, to transform language. After loving one book in an author’s oeuvre, I am piqued to pick up another when I encounter it on a bookshelf. But all books, even by the same author, are not created equal. And so it is with the books in this blog post.

IMG_2136 [553027]“The High Road” by Terry Fallis

For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, the name Terry Fallis may strike you as familiar. That is because I have written 2 blog posts praising his previous works (Up and Down and The Best Laid Plans). I was excited to read “The High Road” and to laugh at the Parliament Hill adventures of Angus McLintock and Daniel Addison once again. There were some good moments in the book and I still enjoyed Fallis’ portrayal of Canadian politics (and perhaps subtle suggestions on how to better the system). However, I found, contrary to his other works, that the balance between antics and reality went sour in this book. The events were overboard instead of being funny especially the incident with the boozy President’s wife. Daniel’s clumsiness was overkill to the point of becoming an annoyance instead of an endearing, comical characteristic. The plot also went too far in creating a happy ending. It wasn’t believable that McLintock’s admirable character and public speaking changed the mind of half of the country and the important political figures to alter the federal budget according to his report. The last straw in the believability was the heartless “Flamethrower” Fox questioning his well-established negative campaigning after encountering McLintock. This book tried too hard to tie up all of the loose ends to make a dish as pleasing as its predecessor, and ended up flavourless in comparison. One disappointing book in a bunch is not enough from trying more by this author; that is how much I enjoyed his previous offerings!

2/5 bacon strips

“Sweetland” by Michael Crummey

Crummey’s book Galore was one of my favourite books from 2015, so I recommended to Tori that we read “Sweetland” for our first shared book discussion. Crummey maintained his high level of writing in “Sweetland”, but the tone was even darker than “Galore”, which had given its darkness a mystical quality that detached it from reality. “Sweetland” has no redemption to the darkness and one event was so heart-wrenching that it caused the book to be added to the small list of books that made me cry. I had to dive into multiple light-hearted novels to pull me out of the sad slump this book put me in. But that also shows how amazing Crummey is at attaching your heart to his characters and pulling you into their stories.  If you like a dark read that explores survival in a solitary environment, lost love, old man stubbornness, death and the Newfoundland landscape than this is the book for you. As for me, I’m not convinced I want to try another Crummey book as it sat too heavily in my stomach.

2/5 bacon strips

“The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro

I was engrossed by the first person narrative and unique plot of “Never Let Me Go”. The front of “The Remains of the Day” had a quote from The New York Times Book Review calling it “A dream of a book.” This book did remind me of dreams…because it was so boring I almost fell asleep. The tale is told from the perspective of an aging British butler reviewing his life while taking a road trip through the English countryside. I thought that there would be something deeper to that concept or a shocking revelation like in “Never Let Me Go”, which is what kept me reading to the end (although I did skip over some of the passages when he began talking yet again about the indescribable quality that makes a good butler). But the end was as boring as the middle and the beginning. Bland and barely palatable, I do not foresee going up for more servings of Kazuo Ishiguro.

1/5 bacon strips

I’d like to hear from you! (especially as I’m always looking for a good book recommendation)! What book disappointed but whose author still remains beloved to you?

 

Sweetness in the Belly

No need to come up with a creative post name when the title of the book fits perfectly! Camilla Gibb’s “Sweetness in the Belly” was one of my favourite reads in April, and definitely left me with a satisfied taste for Gibb’s writing. I have been wanting to read something by this iconic Canadian author for awhile, and I’m so glad that I finally did. This book tells the story of Lilly, an orphaned white woman raised in Ethiopia in a devout Muslim community. When Ethiopia undergoes a political upheaval, Lilly is forced to return to Britain, her country of birth that hold no memories for her. She leaves behind the ones she loves in Ethiopia and spends years searching for knowledge of their whereabouts like many other refugees in Britain.

I found this story interesting in light of the current refugee crisis that the world is facing. I couldn’t help but see reflected in Lilly’s narrative the stories of the thousands of refugees; the struggle to gain a balance of fitting into their new countries while retaining their cultural roots. Lilly’s story also highlighted how even the religious practices can be challenging to navigate. Lilly grew up with Muslim practices that involved saints, incense and ceremonies of significance. The Islam taught in the Mosque she attends in Britain rejects the traditions that Lilly holds dear. It made me sad that even in her religious institution she could not feel truly at home, yet I was impressed with her determination in maintaining her ceremonies even when she saw fellow Ethiopians discarding them for more European-sanctioned beliefs.

Lilly’s story also highlighted that even while she adjusted to life in Britain, her real desire was to return to her life back in Ethiopia; a place she views as her true home. Yet as she learns more about the current state of Ethiopia from the flood of refugees, she realizes that she can never return because the Ethiopia of her youth doesn’t exist anymore. This made me reflect on stories I’ve heard on the radio featuring refugees, who are grateful for their new lives in Canada but wish that they could have stayed in their country as it was during the time of peace. How hard it must be to be forced out of the place you love and watch the destruction of the home you knew.

Within the captivating fictional narrative of “Sweetness in the Belly” is a deep reflection on home, country, religion and identity that left me mulling over long after I’d chewed through the last page of this book.

5/5 bacon strips

IMG_2046 [398262]

March’s book pile

Today’s blog post is a straightforward title because I am simply too tired to think up a more creative synopsis. It appears my child doesn’t need the 8 hours of uninterrupted REM sleep that I do!  I feel the need to set my thoughts on something other than a baby’s schedule, so although I may not be at my mental best today, I have decided to write a post about the books I read in March.

IMG_1717 [166702]

“Living on the Ragged Edge” by Charles R. Swindoll

This is a Christian devotion book that I have been reading off-and-on for the past few months. This book looks into the themes and lessons presented in the book of Ecclesiastes. What I really appreciated about this book was how it didn’t sugarcoat the world or tell you that everything will be okay. I know that seems depressing, but there is something freeing in letting yourself off the hook of giving every situation a positive spin or making your life into this fantasy of happy. We should still seek enjoyment in this life but we are more likely to find it by not making enjoyment our life’s sole purpose. And ultimately, our hope and our purpose is found in a relationship with God. However, these kernels of truth were only in a few chapters. In the other chapters, I found many of his statements outdated or irrelevant. This book was written almost 30 years ago, and you can tell these are the thoughts of a middle-aged conservative Christian man in the 1980s. I’m still glad I read the book but not sure if I’ll pick it up again.

3/5 bacon strips

“Thrive:The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder” by Arianna Huffington

I know this isn’t next in the stack of books but it seems like a good follow-up book review to the Swindoll book. I loved Huffington’s book and found it a great inspiration. I am not normally a self-help book but I found a lot of wisdom in this book along with helpful statistics presented in an easy-to-read manner. In line with what I was reading from Swindoll, this book is not about making yourself happy or avoiding suffering. But it is about finding practices and attitudes to help you thrive in your life. Her Thrive pillars are Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving. It was just what I needed to read this past month. It encouraged me to make the healthy habits in my life a priority such as meditation/prayer time instead of getting sucked into the YouTube video-watching vortex, unplugging from my electronics earlier in the evening to encourage my body to go to sleep when I climb into bed, and turning off the TV to go for a walk or do some yoga. As a busy new mom, there were some pieces of her advice I can’t implement (a good night sleep, daily yoga or exercise) but they are definitely things I will strive to implement once I’m out of the baby phase. I have adopted the practice of thinking of 10 things to be grateful for each day and found it can transform the way I see my whole day.

4/5 bacon strips

“Baby-Led Weaning” by Gill Rapley, Tracey Murkett

So another book in the parenting genre! My baby girl is 6 months old and starting on real food, so I picked up this book after attending a seminar at the Early Years Centre on Introducing Solids. This book had some great tips but I found (as with all parenting books) that you need to read this with a filter. I questioned some of their “facts” as there were no series of scientific studies to show that this is the best way to introduce solids, and I felt that they were a little too insistent that baby-led weaning was the superior method (but clearly that’s why they wrote the book to advocate this as the best method). Many babies have been spoon-fed and end up eating just fine as kids and adults, so I don’t think parents should be guilted if they decide to do spoon feeding especially at the beginning. What I appreciated most about this book was some of the common sense reminders such as including your child in your mealtimes, making the goal to feed them what you’re eating so you’re not making a separate meal for them for the rest of their lives, and trusting your baby. The book recognizes that babies are people and not some robots on a feeding schedule so it’s okay that a food your baby eats one week, he may push away the next week. It was also a good warning to know that baby feeding is messy (as you can see from below)!

3/5 bacon strips

IMG_1648

“Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin

I saw the trailer for the movie, which made me want to read the book since I usually try to read the book before watching the film version. I actually found the movie better than the book, which rarely happens. Due to the lack of jobs in post-WWII Ireland, Eilis accepts the sponsorship of an Irish priest in New York. Just as Eilis has settled into her new life, she has to return to Ireland for a couple of weeks. It is this visit that brings up anew the struggle between her heart in Ireland and the new life she has come to love in America. The Eilis in the movie was more alive and real to me than the Eilis described in the Toibin’s book. Toibin’s Ellis didn’t jump off the page or connect with me. The wishy-washy way she dealt with this struggle between America and Ireland in the book increased my dislike of her. However, the Eilis in the movie was one I could relate to and respected a lot more. Her decision in America vs. Ireland was portrayed in the movie so that it felt like the decision was really hers. In the book, it felt like she was reluctantly forced into her decision. Even with a character I didn’t attach to, I still read this book quickly and wanted to know the ending so it was still a decent read. I would even read a sequel to this book if there was one because I want to see how Eilis’s life turned out. Maybe read the book. Definitely watch the movie.

3/5 bacon strips

A Page of Love to My Granola

I love cereal. My morning doesn’t feel quite right without some cereal for breakfast. When I was pregnant, I often had a bowl of cereal for a midnight snack. The crunch, the fiber, the touch of sweetness, the cold milk in one spoonful. Yum! But I have had to take a break from cereal. In a renewed effort to lose the baby weight, I have introduced healthier alternatives to my favourite foods.

I am a big believer in moderation not starvation of the foods I love.I only have one life and food is a huge part of my life enjoyment. I pulled out this recipe for granola which I used to make a couple of years, and this has become my new go-to recipe to satisfy my cereal craving. It has more fiber and less processed sugar than any of my cereals, and it is so versatile! I can add any nuts or dried fruit that I have in my cupboard (my favourites so far: almonds and dried cranberries, peanuts and dried apricots). Or leave out the dried fruit and add fresh fruit!

IMG_1519

Homemade Granola Recipe

3 cups of oats (quick oats, steel-cut oats…whatever you have works)

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp brown sugar

1/3 cup honey

3 tbsp coconut oil

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Options: nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds…); dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, chopped mango, apples, blueberries…); spices (cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa powder, ground decaf coffee….)

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a bowl, stir together oats, salt, brown sugar and any options.

In a microwavable container, combine and heat honey and coconut oil for 40 seconds. (I use a glass measuring cup because I can measure the ingredients in the container and it has an easy pour spout. If you want clumpier granola, then make more of this honey and coconut oil mixture.) Stir the contents to ensure the coconut oil is dissolved. Add vanilla extract.

Add wet ingredients to the oat mixture and stir well. Place mixture on a large cookie sheet covered in parchment paper (easy clean-up!). Spread evenly.

Place in oven and stir every 5 minutes to prevent burning. It should only take 10-15 minutes depending on how hot your oven is and how crispy you want your granola. If you’re choosing to leave it in longer than 10 minutes, watch the granola carefully. It can go from roasted to burnt very quickly (I’m speaking from experience here!).

Allow to cool before placing in a container. And enjoy!

Let me know your favourite granola flavour combination.

 

 

Milk comas and midnight feeds: My take on parenting books

IMG_1535 [117649]

As my daughter is approaching the age of solid foods, I have found myself binging on parenting books. It is scary to enter a new stage of babyhood and I don’t feel quite prepared, so I have turned to the wisdom of written experience. These books have comforted me with stories of moms who share my struggles and fears. These books have inspired me to think of parenting differently. These books have given me tools to make this journey a little easier and to help raise my daughter as a well-adjusted human being. So, I am going to share some of these parenting books I have found most helpful. (The ones in the picture I own, and the rest are picture-less because I borrowed them from the library.)

HOWEVER, I want to preface this blog post with a caution. Be careful of parenting books. I had to stop reading them for a couple of months because they were stressing me out. I was overwhelmed with the amount of information there is available about how to parent, and I was confused with all of the conflicting advice. When I recently felt the need to gather parenting information again, I remembered something I had reading in the book from the La Leche League: “choose only what feels best for you and your family, and leave the rest behind.” (xxiv Intro) These are the books that I have taken pieces from that fit me and my family, and if they help you as well, then wonderful. If they don’t, then discard them and remember you as the mom knows best!

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting” by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway; 3rd edition

This was my go-to pregnancy book. Each month, I looked forward to reading the update on what my baby was doing and what he/she looked like inside of me at that point. I also found many of the questions in “What You May be Concerned About” really helpful, such as how much caffeine I could have and whether the constant itchiness in my third trimester should concern me. (I did purchase the “What to Expect the First Year” but have not found it as helpful as the pregnancy book.)

“The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” La Leche League International; 8th edition

Before having my daughter, the idea of breastfeeding freaked me out. I couldn’t fathom the idea of my body producing a fluid that could sustain a child, and I felt weird about the idea of some little being sucking on my boobs all the time. This book normalized the idea of breastfeeding for me by giving some great tips, providing lots of information about how to breastfeed, and helping me to visualize doing this with my daughter when she was born. One of the tips I found most helpful was the knowledge that breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt all the time, so when it was excruciating for me I knew to seek help instead of just stopping. I had to change feeding positions, learn a good breast hold, and put on nipple butter constantly for about 2 weeks before the pain disappeared completely, but the tips in this books helped me to hang in there. *If you choose to stop nursing or you can’t nurse, then put this book away because it will not be helpful for you. You make the decision as to what is best for you and your baby. This book is very, very pro-breastfeeding to the point that you will feel guilty if you don’t breastfeed, so this book is not for everyone.* There were many, many things in this book that I discarded as it is much more of a “natural”, “traditional” approach to birthing and parenting than the route I took, so there are entire chapters of the book that I skipped because I did not find them helpful for me.

“The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Harvey Karp

This book should be given to every pregnant woman. If you only read one book before having a child or in the early days of parenthood, this is the book to read. It is an absolute life saver. Karp details how to calm crying babies and help your newborn sleep longer. However, this book is most relevant for those first 3 months of your baby’s life. After that point, the 5 S calming methods don’t work as well because your baby is out of the “fourth trimester” of development. (You could still pick up Harvey Karp’s “The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep”, which is relevant up to age 5. It has some great tips on helping your baby to sleep better.) I would read a chapter while feeding my newborn daughter, and end up implementing the new technique that night. For a while, she calmed quickest being chest to chest as I rocked quickly from side to side while making a loud “ssh” noise. Then, it changed to placing on her side on my legs while swaying them from side to side and “ssh”ing. This book gave me the arsenal of methods I needed to help calm my crying baby and get her back to sleep quickly at nighttime. It also helped to create good sleep habits for my baby, which I am still benefiting from today.

“Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of Parenting” by Pamela Druckerman.

I just read this book recently and it transformed my thinking about my parenting. I wish I had read this one earlier on in my mothering journey. I like how Druckerman presents her discoveries about French parenting but doesn’t force their ideas onto you. She even admits that she is not implementing every idea she comes across, but mixes it with her own American upbringing. I had already been doing “The Pause” with my baby when she cried, but having the term described helped me to implement it even better. I would stop and observe her cry to determine what she needed before running in to rescue her from her crib. Sometimes, she was just coming out of a sleep cycle and still learning to put herself back to sleep. By leaving her, she would go back to sleep within a couple of minutes instead of being fully woken by me rushing in assuming she needed to be comforted or fed. Druckerman’s writing style flows well and is easy to read. I was caught up in her quest to find the best methods of raising children, and grateful that she shared her discoveries.

“The 7 stages of Motherhood” by Ann Pleshette Murphy

This book provides some great advice about how to raise kids at different stages, but more than anything, it is a book that celebrates the highs of mothering and that comforts in the shared lows of raising children. I enjoyed following Ann as she recounts stories of her daughter and son at different ages; and seeing through her eyes how her children changed and grew into the full-grown human beings they are now. It was also helpful to hear accounts from other moms, so a wide range of parenting styles and children’s personalities were given voice. I finished this book feeling inspired to be a better parent and to enjoy my time with my daughter not just trudging through each day. I also felt encouraged to explore who I am as a person and not feel guilty about putting time and energy into the non-mom parts of my identity; I believe that this reinvestment in me will also help me to be a better mother.

There are still so many more stages I will go through with my daughter, and I am grateful for the books, such as those listed above, that provide guidance and community. If you’re a parent, I hope these books will be helpful for you. If you’re not a parent, I hope this post inspires you to pick up a book to guide you and comfort you on whatever journey you are on. (For example, I’m in the middle of reading “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington; a great book on how to live life more fully and productively.) Happy inspirational reading!